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WHITE AS SNOW (2019) review

September 4, 2021


written by: Anne Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer
produced by: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, and Phillippe Carcassonne
directed by: Anne Fontaine
rated: not rated
runtime: 112 min.
U.S. release date: August 12, 2021 (limited) and August 20, 2021 (select theaters)


The Brothers Grimm introduced the world to many twisted tales and no doubt one of the most popular is the story of Snow White, originally published in 1812 and has since been made into countless iterations of musicals, plays, live-action and animated feature films. Every generation, every decade, has seen a new version of Seven Dwarves or a Huntsmen, all of whom are enamored by the young and beautiful protagonist, who is watched closely by the evil queen, whose jealousy and envy has eroded superseded her own beauty. The latest attempt at doing something different with the story is “White as Snow” and it’s a sexy, funny, and bizarrely brazen romance thriller from co-writer/director Anne Fontaine.

Set in modern-day France and primarily filmed in the picturesque French Alps and La Salette-Fallavaux (also parts in Paris and Lyon and Pont-en-Royans, among other locations), “White as Snow”, or “Blanche Comme Neige”, revolves around Clair (Lou de Laâge), a beautiful young woman who works at a hotel managed by her stepmother Maud (Isabelle Huppert), after her father died, and owned by Maud’s secret lover, Bernard (Charles Berling). Claire is abducted one morning while out for a run by a mysterious woman (Agata Buzek), tossed in the trunk of a car and driven out into the country. While Claire manages to escape, her pursuer tracks her down in the dense woods, and just as she is about to be shot dead, Claire is rescued by a hunter, Pierre (Damien Bonnard), who resides in a nearby cottage with his stuttering twin brother Francois (also Bonnard) and an awkward cellist, Vincent (Vincent Macaigne).




These are the first of seven men that Claire will meet within the next week or so that she is missing from civilization. There becomes an unknown element about her kidnapping and rescue that liberates something inside of Claire. Instead of wondering how she’ll get back to life as she knew it, she begins to explore another possible life, one that is fueled by a sexual awakening. She clearly realizes that just about every man she meets is not only a stranger, but one whom is smitten and absolutely intoxicating by Claire’s beauty. It’s as if she emits a pheromone that arouses any man she encounters, or as if a fourteen year-old male has penned the screenplay.

It would be immature and prudish to pass judgement on Claire’s casual sexcapades with six of these men (one is an older priest, played by Richard Fréchette, she eventually sits down with and confides in), since such trysts would hardly be scrutinized if Claire were a virile young man. Each man she beds seems to be transformed by their experience, as if Claire has offered them a needed life-changing event, bolstering whatever weaknesses that had ensnared them such as bashfulness, shyness, cowardice, or meekness. Of the other three gents Claire plays with (she sleeps with two of them), there is Sam (Jonathan Cohen), a clingy veterinarian who struggles with a severe inferiority complex, the athletic Clément (Pablo Pauly) the son of a kinky bookshop owner named Charles (Benoît Poelvoorde, who also starred in Fonatine’s “Coco Before Channel” from 2009). Claire is not nearly as invested in these men as they are in her. While she enjoys herself in the throngs of these sexual acts, it is far from the big deal for her as it is for the men she ingratiates.

Claire may have become their savior or object of obsession, but there’s unfortunately such a vague characterization of Claire offered that we’re left with a vacant protagonist to follow. Hope that at some point more will be given for Laâge to do with the character is quickly squashed since the screenplay by Fontaine and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer doesn’t bother to offer any insight into Claire’s motivations or thought process. Could she just simply be a randy young woman exploring her urges? Sure, but considering how she arrived at this remote location by way of an attempted murder, you would think there would be more to delve into, but alas, carnal pleasures take over and ultimately overwhelm any potential psychological ramifications of an attempt on the character’s life. Claire simply loses herself in this new persona; as a siren to damaged male villagers, floating about without a worry and even taking a job as a server in a local cafe as if to make her transplant permanent.



Once Huppert’s Maud catches up with Claire in the second half of “White as Snow”, the story veers into more fantastical and somewhat bizarre territory. It’s fun to see the always-enjoyable Huppert play a variation of the Evil Queen and the veteran actress inevitably relishes the chance to dive in to the potential threat Maud poses in Claire’s life. As in the classic fable, Maud is jealous of Claire’s young beauty as she studies what she assuredly sees in the mirror as her own fading beauty.

Sure enough, there is the inclusion of a poison apple in the story, which is one of many somewhat on-the-nose nods to the source material. But, a third act provides an intoxicated dance between Lou de Laâge and Isabelle Huppert that is quite transfixing and becomes one of the more unpredictable moments in the film. It may also add to the film’s overall tonal shifts, which could be characterized as a whimsical romance at times or a traditional thriller in other moments.

Visually, Fontaine benefits from the cinematography of Yves Angelo, who captures a certain magical timelessness of the locations used for “White as Snow”. The earthy tones of the dense woods are emphasized and the way in which Huppert is shot in her red dress really accentuates her antagonist role in a traditional manner. One outdoor scene, set amid lush greenery next to a cascading waterfall, truly feels like it comes from the pages of a storybook.

Against my better judgement, I found myself enjoying “White as Snow” as an unabashed revision of a classic fairy tale. At times, I rolled my eyes while watching what could easily been liken to an episode of “Red Shoe Diaries” back in the days of Skinamx, yet I was also charmed by the screen presence of de Laâge and Huppert, both of whom provide the film with a double does of luminous appeal.



RATING: **1/2



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