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White As Snow
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Belle Of The Balls"
2 stars

If you have been longing to see a version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in which Snow White ends up having vigorous sex with the majority of the dwarves, your prayers have been answered with “White As Snow,” an utterly bewildering import from French filmmaker Anne Fontaine with a premise so loopy that it almost has to be seen to be believed, not that I would exactly suggest anything that extreme.

Having recently lost her father, the beautiful-but-aimless Claire (Lou de Laage) works at the hotel he once owned and which is now being run by her vain stepmother Maud (Isabelle Huppert at her Hupperiest). When Maud catches her lover (Charles Berling) hitting on the innocent Claire, she reacts in the most perfectly normal manner imaginable—she hires a woman to kidnap Claire and drive her up into the woods in the Alps to murder her. After a convenient car accident, is rescued by twin brothers (both played by Damien Bonnard), who end up taking her in to stay at the rambling country home that they share with a hypochondriac violinist (Vincent Macaigne). She soon makes the acquaintance of four other local men—a lovesick vet (Jonathan Cohen), a priest (Richard Frechette), a genially lecherous bookshop owner (Benoit Poelvoorde) and his karate champion son (Pablo Pauly)—and as her stay goes on, she finds herself embarking on a process of self-discovery that mostly consists of her having sex with most of the guys. Meanwhile, Maud discovers that Claire is still alive and decides to track her down and finish the job and while I wouldn’t dream of spoiling things, let it be known that yes, a poisoned apple does actually make an appearance.

Fontaine is a filmmaker whose career is dotted with films dealing with premises that are both simultaneously sexually charged and utterly preposterous—“Nathalie” involved a woman who learns that her husband has slept with another woman and hires a prostitute to seduce him and report back on the things he likes and “Adore” featured Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two lifelong friends who wind up sleeping with each other’s sons—but with “White As Snow,” she has managed to outdo herself. Granted, the works of the Brothers Grimm are ripe for feminist revision and one can only imagine what might have resulted if a genuinely radical filmmaker like Catherine Breillat had taken a shot at something along these lines. Alas, Fontaine seems to have nothing on her mind than presenting soft-core silliness on a level that wouldn’t seem out of place in a late-night Cinemax movie. Although the story is meant to demonstrate Claire’s discovery of her true self, that element never comes off because although de Laage is undeniably gorgeous and eminently watchable throughout, her character is so poorly developed that by the end, she somehow feels come across as more of a total blank than she did in the early going. Meanwhile, all of the guys—with the exception of the priest—are all tools to one degree or another and their liaisons with Claire tend to come across as more creepy than charming.

On the other hand, there is Huppert, who is one of our greatest living actresses and one of those performers who can usually take even the lamest material and make it work, at least during the time that she is on the screen. I suspect that she probably realized early on that the whole enterprise was ridiculous and decided to instead focus on making a full gourmet meal out of her surroundings. The result is a hoot of a performance that is a lot of fun to watch as she makes Maud’s every action into a hilariously over-the-top caricature of evil—she even figures out how to vape with malevolence—and even though her work here will hardly rate a mention in any future Lifetime Achievement highlight reels, it certainly livens things up here, if only for a little bit. Alas, not even her considerable efforts are enough to save “White as Snow” from complete disposability, though I suspect that Mr. Skin will be getting a lot of use out of it in the weeks to come.

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originally posted: 08/20/21 01:15:28
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