Whenever one watches a foreign movie, one has to remember that foreign cinema is as much a product of its creators culture and environment as it is of the creator himself. When American films are littered with nods or references or allegorical constructs to bits of American culture, we often take such things for granted, yet if a foreigner were to watch one of our films, they might not understand the nuances of a scene that is singularly American in nature. The movie I just watched for this blog, 2009’s The White Ribbon, is a film that I can easily call German to its core, and because I don’t have a centuries worth of German history and culture at my disposal and a deep understanding of the mindset of Germans just before World War I, I found the film to be a tad bit inaccessible.
The White Ribbon is a highly allegorical tale of a small town in Germany, right on the eve of World War I. The film begins with the local doctor being flung from his horse because an unknown person(s) had set up a thin wire across his gates trying to injure him. Throughout the rest of the film, the viciousness of acts perpetrated against various members of the town only increases, and it culminates in a retarded boy being tortured nearly to death in the woods. While some films attempt to be a character study of particular individuals, this movie attempts to analyze the psyche of an entire town, and throughout the film, you get fairly detailed looks into the lives and mindsets of a fairly diverse subset of the town’s population.
Many people have wondered just how a government like Hitler’s Nazi Party could ever gain control of a country. People wonder how a civilized nation like Germany could turn its back on so much atrocity and evil. Through a psychological examination of the darkness that exists in the town through a patriarchal and oppressive culture that is spread like a virus down unto the children, the movie attempts to posit its own answer to that question. At first, I thought the film was going to be a who-dun-it about the various crimes that had been committed across the town, but after about 45 minutes in, I finally realized what kind of story the film was trying to tell. The various acts of inhumanity and intolerance throughout this film are quite disturbing and fairly difficult to watch, but if you accept that the film is attempting to provide an explanation for Germany’s later history, it serves as a chilling image.
The cinematography of the film was absolutely fantastic. It was shot in a beautiful black-and-white, and the director made use of some clever and original camera angles that were instrumental in keeping your brain engaged in the action on screen in a better way than traditional shots would have accomplished. I wish I could say the film’s editing was as exceptional, but since this film ran nearly two and a half hours long, there was several times that the movie’s focus could have been narrowed, and I can think of several scenes just off the top of my head that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.
If, like me, you love foreign movies, then you should definitely give this one a go. It won the Golden Globe for best foreign film and was nominated at the Oscar’s for the same category. If you speak German or consider yourself to be a bit of a buff on German history or culture, you should without question watch this film and then get back to me and talk with me about it so that I can understand it better. I felt like there was so much happening in this film that I wasn’t able to completely grasp because of the culture barrier. I don’t think this is one of the greatest foreign films that I’ve watched on here, but it left me with a ton to think about, which isn’t something I can say about many films, American or foreign.
Final Score: B+