Director Michael Haneke examines the roots of the National Socialist movement in this chilling tale about a small farming village in pre-World War I Germany. The film won the Palme D'or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
The White Ribbon digs into the puritanical and tyrannical traditions of Eichwald, a small farming villagein Germany, in the year leading up to the outbreak of World War I. As narrated by the local schoolteacher many years after the fact, the story digs into the lives of many different citizens of the village, adult and child alike, as a series of strange, violent acts occur without explanation.
It all begins when the town doctor is badly injured in a horse riding incident. Someone tied a wire between two trees, which caused the horse to fall and the doctor to fall hard, cracking his collarbone. Not long after, a woman dies in an accident working at a sawmill. Her family blames the local Baron, who lords over the town (and employs nearly everyone), and at the local harvest festival, the woman's eldest son destroys the Baron's entire cabbage crop in a fit of vengeance. The father of the family is disgraced, and he eventually hangs himself, but not before the Baron's young son goes missing one night, only to be found at the sawmill the next day, tied up and beaten severely.
The implication is that the children of the village may be behind these violent attacks, and that their brutal treatment at the hands of the town's adults. The local pastor, a cold disciplinarian, forces his two eldest children to wear a white ribbon around their arms as a sign of "purity" when they fail to arrive home on time. When his son confesses to impure self-exploration, he ties his hands to the bed every night when he goes to sleep. The local doctor is no better. Though he is revered by most of the citizens of the town, he engages in a cruel, abusive relationship with the local midwife, and he frequently sexually abuses his daughter. The local baron, though not overtly evil, is a man of severe whims and seems to hold little regard for the people of the village beyond the fruits of their labors.
Amid everything the schoolteacher witnesses, he also develops an affinity for a young girl who works for a time as a nanny for the baron. She is suddenly fired following the kidnapping and abuse of the baron's son, but the schoolteacher continues to pursue her, even after she returns to her home village miles away.
Eventually the schoolteacher begins to put the pieces together and suspect the children of the various crimes being committed. He confronts the pastor about the subject, with the belief that the pastor's own kin might be specifically behind it all. The pastor harshly rebuffs him, threatening his job and his livelihood should he ever speak of this to anyone. Not long after, archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungarian Empire is assassinated in Serbia, and the entire town's focus shifts to the fear of oncoming war. No resolution is ever given for the terrible events that took place in Eichwald, and the schoolteacher, after marrying his beloved, leaves the village and never returns.