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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  White Ribbon


Director Michael Haneke (2009)

How do we come to fear our children?

The White Ribbon dissects, in sharp, clinical black and white, life in a German village in the months before the First World War. It is a microcosm on the cusp of modernity. On the surface a rural community in timeless harness with nature, the turning of the seasons. Beneath, a seething violence, a premonition of the horror, barely repressed by custom and hypocrisy.

The children move stiffly, purposefully. The adults flounder, confused, seeing in their spawn the germ of chaos, subversion, the end of time. They cling to a moral order. If only the children can be controlled they might be all right. Tie a white ribbon, the symbol of purity, to their hair, a gentle simulacrum of their chains.

The story is told, could only be told, by an outsider, the unnamed School Teacher (Christian Friedel). Looking back from a future from where he knows how it will all end, he recounts the mysteries he investigated as a young man.

There is more going on than the routine punishment and trammeling of the young. Someone, something, has got out of control. Can it be the children are organising against their oppressors with a kind of distilled, stylised version of the cruely exerted on them? Enforcing an even more exacting, dehumanising creed?

Of course, we know what’s coming. Not just in the next war but the one after. When those youngsters will be running things.

Yet Haneke firmly roots the future in the past. The children do not come from nowhere, they are made in the image of their adult persecutors.

I blame the parents.

January 5, 2010

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