White as Snow Review

The idea of White as Snow (Blanche Comme Neige) has such a charged adult fairy tale conceit. Too bad the lagging execution is disenchanting.

Once upon a time, there is young twentysomething Claire (Lou de Laâge) who lives a drab life in Geneva. She’s a servant of this wealthy hotel owner Maud (Isabelle Huppert, perfectly ice cold), and we learn later she is the latter’s stepdaughter. When Claire goes to bed, the camera lingers on her removing her clothing, insinuating she desires something, or someone, to come into contact with her bareness.

During her morning jog, Claire is abducted and taken toward the mountains to be left for dead. She doesn’t know this was orchestrated by her stepmother after the stepmother’s former lover attempted to flirt with Claire. Miraculously, a stranger (Damien Bonnard) saves her and she wakes up in the bedroom in a house dwelling near a mountain village. Now a lodger away from city life, she finds herself in no hurry to leave and starts to sexually pursue the male residents, first with her savior, then the other men.

As you’re figuring out, this is a sexed-up Snow White, where a modern Snow White screws the men that represent the seven dwarfs—or befriends them. Each significant male figure has suggested attributes, ranging from stern, quirky, reserved, and lecherous. Like the icy observation of the film, these personalities lurk beneath for each man, but they rarely fully form into love interests or companions that really pop.

With a constant placid countenance, de Laâge holds the blank-slate innocence and glassy curiosity as intended when casting a Snow White, but she seems too dulled for a tale that gives its Snow White more to do than just chores. She does not find much command with the assigned role as a beautiful woman who charms the men around her. When Claire declares, “I didn’t know what desire was before,” it is non-committal, as if she says so because the script says so.

Screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer and director Anne Fontaine have at least written an empowering fantasy premise about a woman experimenting with sexual liberation and never apologizing for her carnal pursuits. To imagine the often-waifish figure of fairy tales as a seductress with sexual agency should feel novel and stimulating. There are a few refreshing touches, such as the motorcycle-riding priest (Richard Frechette) who validates her need to pursue the flesh. But Fontaine’s direction seems too non-committal for these ideas to immerse viewers in this Snow White’s sexual awakening. I felt nothing for Claire’s escapades and her burgeoning sexuality and her pursuits begin to feel repetitive, with each love scene trying to outdo the other with their outlandish set-ups. A few love scenes, be it in the bedroom, the car, or the forest ground, may steam with titillation, but I rarely did I ever feel the charge and desired the men with her.

Cinematographer Yves Angelo does emit eerie spells from the mountainous environment, from the lushness of springs to the mistiness of the forests. The alpine landscape does command the camera, yet there is little to insinuate the aphrodisiac intoxication it supposedly casts upon its heroine and other players.

It isn’t until its third act does the tale find charge, when the stepmother’s machinations close in. Some chuckle-worthy dark comedy kicks in, particularly in a choice that apes directly off the Grimm’s fairy tale when the stepmother goes as far as to inject an apple with poison, leading to a scene that meshes tension and comedy. Other campy touches befuddle rather than invoke chuckles.

All in all, White as Snow has little sparks and feels drained. I wished this erotic Snow White enchanted me.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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About the Author

Caroline Cao is a Houstonian native and writer of movie reviews and essays, Star Wars thoughts, screenplays, plays and fanfiction. She loves herself some oodles of noodles and student discounted Broadway shows.