Abstract

Michael Haneke's 2009 The White Ribbon is set in the village of “Eichwald.” Eichwald cannot be found on any German map. It is an imaginary place in the Protestant North of Eastern Germany in the early twentieth century. What is more, Haneke tells his black-and-white tale as the flashback narration of a voice-over narrator—a series of defamiliarizing techniques that lift the diegetic action out of its immediate sociohistorical context, stripping it of its temporal and topographical coordinates. Against this backdrop, is it possible to hear the name “Eichwald” without being reminded of, on the one hand, Adolf Eichmann, Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer and one of the key architects of the Holocaust, and, on the other, the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald? To be sure, Eichwald is not Buchenwald, and no 56,000 humans are being murdered here. Yet why this peculiar terminological fusion? What characterizes Eichwald, this model of a society in which adults have no names but merely function as representatives of a particular class and profession: the Baron, the Pastor, the Teacher, the Steward, the Midwife, etc.? What distinguishes this village that appears to be largely isolated from the outside world, this village that outsiders rarely enter and from which no one seems to be able to escape? What identifies this prison-like community with its oppressive atmosphere, its tiny rooms and low ceilings, its myriad alcoves, niches, windows, and hallways that evoke a general sense of “entrapment” and incarceration? This world in which even the camera appears to be shackled, to never zoom, hardly to pan or tilt, thus depriving the image of any dynamism, any mobility? Who—in this confining milieu—are the guards, who the detainees? And what characterizes the putatively illicit activities that appear to lie at its enigmatic center and around which the entire film seems to revolve?

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