- Directors: Michael Haneke
- Producers: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz
- Writers: Michael Haneke
- Genres: Crime, Drama, Mystery
- Actors: Ulrich Tukur
The events portrayed in the film are narrated as distant memories of the village schoolmaster.
The setting is the Protestant north-German village of Eichwald between 1913 and 1914. Here the pastor, the doctor and the baron rule the roost over women, children and peasant farmers. The puritanical pastor gives confirmation classes and causes his pubescent children to have guilty consciences over trivial offences. He makes them wear white ribbons of purity to remind them of the path of righteousness from which they have strayed. When his son confesses to masturbation, the pastor has the boyâ€™s hands tied to the bed frame. The doctor, who treats the village children in a kindly way, nevertheless humiliates his housekeeper (the local midwife) and sexually abuses his own daughter. The baron, who is the lord of the manor, does as he pleases and rides roughshod over his workers. This exploitation so angers the son of one of the farmers that he destroys a field of cabbages belonging to the baron. The young manâ€™s mother had previously been killed when she fell through rotten floorboards at the baronâ€™s sawmill and his grieving father is later found hanged.
Mysterious things happen. A wire is stretched between two trees causing the doctor to fall from his horse. The baronâ€™s eldest son is abducted on the day of the harvest festival and is found the following morning in the woods, having been bound and thrashed with a cane. A barn is set on fire. The handicapped son of the midwife is attacked and almost blinded. The pastor discovers that his canary has been cruelly killed – apparently as revenge for the draconian punishments to his children.
The midwife rides into town on a bicycle â€“ perhaps she has evidence for the police. The schoolmaster leaves the village never to return.