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November 22, 2021

White as Snow

white as snow.jpg

Blanche comme neige
Anne Fontaine - 2019
Cohen Media Group BD Region A

Snow White continues to be retold and reinvented. Anne Fontaine has made a contemporary version which plays with the familiar parts of the story. Instead of a castle, the film begins at a luxury hotel in Geneva. The princess, Claire, is an heiress, her deceased father was the owner of the hotel. The stepmother, Maud, is now in charge of the hotel. The stepmother only gradually reveals her wickedness, initially jealous due to the loss of attention with her lover gazing longingly at Claire. No dwarves, but seven different men are part of the life of Claire following her rescue in the woods from a would-be kidnapper.

Francophiles will recognize the obvious designations of the names. Claire sounds like clair, the French word for clear. Maud is a shortening of maudit - damned or condemned. Fontaine's Snow White is hardly virginal having discovered what she calls "desire", having sex with several men who are attracted to her appearance of innocence. Claire is played by Lou de Laage, not exceptionally pretty but she has beautiful full lips. As Maud, Isabelle Huppert takes on the appearance of a live action cartoon. Her deep red lipstick stands out against her own pale face. Red leather gloves, a red clothing are part of her wardrobe. In a later scene, Claire is also wearing a red dress at a dance which concludes with her partnering with Maud, a duel of love and hate. That Claire could well become like Maud is suggested several times.

Most of the film takes place around La Salette in the French Alps. The town is known for its Catholic shrine which also is integrated into the story. There is a certain leisurely pace with the camera exploring the woods, the mountains, and the twisting roads. Fontaine even incorporates a bit of Hitchcock when Maud, in her open top sports car, drives with a nauseous Claire along a part of the highway that is inches away from a straight drop on the passenger side, a scene similar to Suspicion with Joan Fontaine as the unlucky passenger and Cary Grant behind the wheel. There is also some comedy as Maud frustratingly finds herself unable to get away with murder.

A good amount of Yves Angelo's cinematography evokes Rembrandt in the lighting of Lou de Laage in the interior scenes, notably in the earlier scenes. The overall visual look of the film is soft, slightly hazy. My own interpretation is that Anne Fontaine tried to find a visual correlation that would make her story simultaneously contemporary and also dreamlike. There has been dispute regarding whether this version of Snow White is indeed feminist, if Claire is truly liberated. Some of these arguments may well be cultural especially with French films more frank in their presentation of sex. This is ultimately a Snow White for an era where women are not necessarily looking for a prince, or anyone else, to come to their rescue.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 22, 2021 06:22 AM