The twentieth century showed us, through every decade and in terrifying living color, how easily we humans succumb to mass hysteria or propagandist group-think. Left and right, religious and atheist, fascist and communist, first and third world: given enough fear, and an attractive enough human savior, we are capable of genocide, ignorance, hatred, and cruelty that, by geographic or chronological distance, seems insane, irrational, bizarre.

Perhaps the most vivid of these instances is the Holocaust. What could have made not just power-mad politicians, but ordinary citizens and churches assent to or just ignore genocide?

While filmmakers have tried to deal with this question (for instance, in last year's The Reader), Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon—winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival—eschews heavy-handed moralizing in favor of an austerely told story (parable? dream? twisted fairy tale? truth?) set in the last few days before Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated and World War I begins.

The tale is purportedly told to "explain later events," though the narrator warns us that he's not sure he's got all the details right. A small, quiet town in Germany is populated by farmers and their families who work for the Baron, a genial sort of boss with a wife, an adorable son, and twin baby girls. One day, the town's doctor is out riding his horse across his land when the horse trips over a wire strung between two trees. The doctor is badly injured and forced to stay in the hospital, but the woman next door—the town's midwife and the doctor's assistant, who has a young mentally disabled son—takes care of his children. The wire mysteriously disappears a few days later.

What seems ...

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The White Ribbon
Our Rating
3½ Stars - Good
Average Rating
 
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Mpaa Rating
R (for some disturbing content including violence and sexuality)
Genre
Directed By
Michael Haneke
Run Time
2 hours 24 minutes
Cast
Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur
Theatre Release
March 05, 2010 by Sony Pictures Classics
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