The White Ribbon  

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"You're ugly, you're unkempt. You're skin is flabby and your breath smells." --doctor to midwife

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The White Ribbon is a 2009 black-and-white German-language drama film written and directed by Michael Haneke. Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (literally, "The White Ribbon, a German Children's Story") darkly depicts society and family in a northern German village just before World War I and, according to Haneke, "is about the roots of evil. Whether it’s religious or political terrorism, it’s the same thing." The film is set in 1913 at a German rural school where suspicious events, seemingly instances of ritual punishment, take place.

The film premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 where it won the Palme d'Or, followed by positive reviews and several other major awards.


The memories of an unnamed elderly tailor form a parable from the distant year he worked as a village schoolteacher and met his fiancée Eva, a nanny. The setting is the fictitious Protestant village of Eichwald, Germany, from July 1913 to 9 August 1914, where the local pastor, the doctor and the baron rule the roost over the area's women, children and peasant farmers.

The puritanical pastor leads confirmation classes and gives his pubescent children a guilty conscience over apparently small transgressions. He has them wear white ribbons as a reminder of the innocence and purity from which they have strayed. When his son confesses to impure touching, the pastor has the boy’s hands tied to his bed frame each night. The doctor, a widower, treats the village children kindly but humiliates his housekeeper (the local midwife, which whom he is also having sexual relations) and is found with his teenage daughter at night. The baron, who is the lord of the manor, underwrites harvest festivities for the villagers, many of them his farm workers. He summarily dismisses Eva for no apparent reason yet defends the integrity of a farmer whose son has destroyed the baron's field of cabbages.

The schoolteacher's friendship with Eva leads to an invitation to her family home during a Christmas break, and he receives grudging permission from her authoritarian father to marry after a one-year engagement.

Unexplained events occur. A wire is stretched between two trees causing the doctor a terrible fall from his horse. The farmer's wife dies at the sawmill when rotten floorboards give way; her grieving husband later hangs himself. The baron’s young son Sigi goes missing on the day of the harvest festival and is found the following morning in the sawmill, bound and badly caned. A barn at the manor burns down. The baroness tells her husband that she is in love with another man. Shortly after the pastor's daughter opens his parakeet's cage with scissors in hand, the pastor finds the bird cruelly impaled. The steward's daughter claims a violent dream about harm coming to the midwife's handicapped son, then the boy is attacked and almost blinded, found during a night search alongside a well-written note quoting Exodus 20:5. The steward at the baron's estate thrashes his son for stealing a flute from Sigi.

The midwife commandeers a bicycle from the schoolteacher to go into town, claiming that she has evidence for the police given to her by her son. She and her son are not seen again, and the doctor's family has also vacated the premises, leaving his practice closed. The schoolteacher's growing suspicions lead to a confrontation in the pastor's rectory, where he insinuates that the pastor's children had prior knowledge of the local troubles. Offended, the pastor threatens the schoolteacher that he will be reported to the authorities if he repeats his accusations.

The film ends at the time of the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria–Hungary, with the conclusion in church on the day of a visit from the narrator's prospective father-in-law. Disquiet remains in the village, with no explanation of the violent events. The narrator left Eichwald, never to return.


  • Christian Friedel as the school teacher
  • Ernst Jacobi as narrator (the school teacher many years later)
  • Leonie Benesch as Eva, nanny to the baron and baroness's twin babies
  • Ulrich Tukur as the baron
  • Ursina Lardi as the baroness, Marie-Louise
  • Fion Mutert as Sigmund, their oldest son
  • Michael Kranz as Sigmund's tutor
  • Burghart Klaußner as the pastor
  • Steffi Kühnert as Anna, the pastor's wife
  • Maria-Victoria Dragus as Klara, their oldest daughter
  • Leonard Proxauf as Martin, their oldest son
  • Levin Henning as Adolf
  • Johanna Busse as Margarete
  • Thibault Sérié as Gustav
  • Josef Bierbichler as the baron's steward
  • Gabriela Maria Schmeide as Emma, his wife
  • Janina Fautz as Erna, their daughter
  • Enno Trebs as Georg
  • Theo Trebs as Ferdinand
  • Rainer Bock as the doctor
  • Roxane Duran as Anna, the doctor's daughter
  • Susanne Lothar as the midwife
  • Eddy Grahl as Karli, her son
  • Branko Samarovski as a peasant
  • Birgit Minichmayr as Frieda
  • Aaron Denkel as Kurti
  • Detlev Buck as Eva's father
  • Carmen-Maja Antoni as the bathing midwife

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The White Ribbon" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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