As I left the theater I asked HG, with whom I saw the film, what he thought. He replied, "That was no Hansel and Gretel story." His response was a quaint but appropriate way of saying that this picture is no walk in the park.
The story takes place before World War I in a small German village which has its own baron (Ulrich Tukur). The waving fields of grain and gardens of cabbage give the impression of a simple, idyllic environment in which to live. But strange events soon begin to occur.
While out riding one morning, the town doctor (Rainer Bock) is injured when thrown from his horse. The cause of the accident was a wire stretched across the road. Who placed it there and was he the intended victim? Other unexplained incidents occur including a fire, farm accidents, and a murder. Children are assaulted with extreme physical punishment by their fathers. The Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) also punishes his children and then makes them wear a white ribbon, a symbol of purity.
What are we witnessing? A society that on the surface appears bucolic but beneath the veneer hides child molestation, adultery and incest? Are the parents evil or are the children the real perpetrators of violence?
After the movie, a couple who had also just seen it asked me to explain it to them. I had no answer. I was as clueless as they were. My understanding of the film was further hindered because the subtitles were poorly lit and often flashed too quickly on the screen to read them. (The film is in German, Italian, Polish and Latin with English subtitles.)
Suffice it to say that I don't understand the rave reviews that this picture received, and I was not a happy camper when I left the theater. Subsequently the thought occurred to me. The message is that Peyton Place exists in every hamlet and city.