White Bird in a Blizzard

2015-08-14 08:36

What it's about:

Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) is 17 years old when her perfect homemaker mother, Eve (Eva Green), a beautiful, enigmatic, and haunted woman, disappears - just as Kat is discovering and relishing her newfound sexuality. Having lived for so long in a stifled, emotionally repressed household, she barely registers her mother's absence and certainly doesn't blame her doormat of a father, Brock (Christopher Meloni), for the loss. In fact, it's almost a relief. But as time passes, Kat begins to come to grips with how deeply Eve's disappearance has affected her. Returning home on a break from college, she finds herself confronted with the truth about her mother's departure, and her own denial about the events surrounding it.

What we thought:

The latest film from cult director Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, Kaboom) is not exactly what anyone would call a flawless masterpiece. Its pacing is a bit off, its narrative often elliptical and its resolution feels almost like an afterthought. Add to that the film's confrontational attitude towards linear storytelling and “realism” (though its neither surreal nor hard to follow), and it's simply bound to piss a lot of people off.  

Personally though, not only am I very glad to have seen – or, more accurately, experienced – White Bird in a Blizzard (which is a beautiful, evocative title, regardless of the film itself), I'm also thrilled that a movie this unabashedly noncommercial is actually being released, even in a limited fashion, to cinemas in this country. It may not be perfect but it is genuinely evocative and is bound to both challenge and leave a lasting impression on its audience.

Also, unlike far too many ‘art’ films that come our way, there's nothing austere or self-important about White Bird in a Blizzard. It may not be quite as anarchic or as acidic as Araki's more notorious features but its mixture of pitch black humour, occasional diversions into high-camp (thanks mostly to a deliciously OTT Eva Green) and still youthful, punkish energy means that it's a visceral, fundamentally enjoyable movie-going experience. And a fairly unique one at that.

It's actual plot and, indeed, many of the themes it tackles are, by now, very well-trod, as its depictions of lifeless suburbia and its exploration of how well we know the people closest to us have been extensively covered in everything from Blue Velvet to Gone Girl. And yet, it still feels lively and energized and exciting.

For a start, the film simply rules mercilessly on a purely aesthetic level. The soundtrack is a mix of quite hauntingly beautiful orchestral pieces with a killer selection of 80's pop songs (though think more the Cure than Madonna) and visually the film's contrast of vibrant, almost luminescent colours against a recurring ice motif, all funnelled through a design that is part '80s and part '50s, results in one of the most striking films of the year.

It's not all just surface though. The film does deal with those now-familiar themes of seemingly all films set squarely in suburbia but it stands out because it leaves so much open and unsaid. Indeed, the fact that the resolution of the film's central mystery seems to be so non-committedly tossed off is presumably because Araki didn't want the neat closure of the film's narrative to get in the way of its far more visceral yet ethereal overall mood.

And then, of course, there are the performances. In terms of objective quality they're kind of all over the map, ranging from Christopher Meloni's largely understated turn as Kat's loving dad to the unleashed, campy madness of Eva Green who swings from sexy seductress to bored housewife to unhinged lunatic with wild abandon. All these performances, however, are anchored by a simply wonderful turn from Shailene Woodley as Kat, our point-of-view character and nominal heroine, who brings authenticity and emotional depth to a film that would easily have spun wildly out of control without her. She's perfectly decent sleepwalking through the latest Divergent instalment but its films like this that really gives her a chance to shine – and boy does she take it.

Ultimately, I can't quite bring myself to give a higher rating to White Bird in a Blizzard as it is undeniably flawed but I also can't do anything but highly recommend it to anyone who wants something a bit less cookie cutter from a night out at the movies and, of course, to anyone who wants to put their money where their mouth is and demand greater diversity and risk taking from their local cinema. I love Fast and Furious 7 and a good many of the three thousand and one superhero movies that are released each year but really, shouldn't there be space for something like White Bird in a Blizzard too?

MJ 2015/08/16 9:43 PM
You love this mediocre film, but you despise an authentic masterpiece like Inherent Vice. Bad show, kemosabe. Bad show...
Ilan Preskovsky 2015/08/17 7:00 PM
I didn't "despise" Inherent Vice, it just didn't work for me, and what is it about my three-star review that suggested I "loved" White Bird? I respect its ambition (as I do Inherent Vice) and I enjoyed its nuttiness and surprising lack of obvious self-importance (would that I can say the latter about IV) but it's certainly flawed. You want to talk "love", though, check out my review of the thoroughly wonderful Love and Mercy.
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