(A little disclaimer: I wrote this review in 2009 and I did not get this movie. It’s hilarious how much I did not get it. Then again: Getting this movie is the ultimate proof that you’ve become German, so take that as you will. I will leave this review on here just to show my ignorance.)
When I left the theatre yesterday, I was angry. It was a strange experience (movies rarely make me angry) which I’ve only come to understand this morning: Das weisse Band makes a promise it doesn’t keep. That’s the only problem I have with the movie, the only thing keeping me from saying that this is the best, most chilling stuff I’ve seen in ages. And the thing keeping me from wholeheartedly being able to tell people to go and watch it.
Purity: The Good
Das weisse Band starts around 1912. It follows a small German village for two years, focussing on its different inhabitants and their intrigue. Mysterious crimes are sweeping the surroundings, with no apparent solution. At the centre of the story is the school teacher, a nice man who falls in love with a nurse. Next to that, we also focus on the town priest, the baron, a farmer, the landlord, a doctor… All of these have either a wife or children.
What’s beautiful about this story is that it quickly becomes apparent that you’re watching “real life”: it doesn’t go anywhere. The thriller subplot is relatively unimportant; it’s the beautifully rounded characters that matter. The actors portray them accordingly: I got sucked into the story fast, and was amazed at how well they performed. I actually believed the children – can you imagine how hard it is to explain the year 1912 to a five year old?
The movie has a distinct, black and white style. There is relatively little panning going on (and you can forget about zooms entirely, if I remember correctly there’s just none at all). This causes the entire film to get a very chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere. There is no reality outside of the village – kind of like a horror movie. Add to that the absence of music and you’ve got a very dark experience (even if almost nothing happens).
Sin: The Bad
Warning: spoiler ahead! (even though I think it would actually improve your experience with the movie)
So why was I angry? That all sounds wonderful! My big gripe with the film is the thriller subplot: someone is killing, burning and torturing people – and it never gets resolved who. This makes the ending – the culmination of everything regarding these strange events – very anticlimatic: the last twenty minutes build only on the start of the war and the war inside the village. If it’s not important who commited these crimes, then why have them in your plot at all?
Why couldn’t this have been just a character drama set in the 1910s? It doesn’t need the thriller elements; the movie is much better, much creepier without them. I know why Haneke did what he did: he wants us to think about it and come up with our own solution. That doesn’t work for a thriller. It works for the open-endedness of some other plot lines towards the end, but not for a thriller. Have you ever read a thriller?
What a dud. Now I can’t recommend this movie to anyone. And it is so good too…