Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer and Philippe Director: Anne Fontaine Screenplay: Pascal Bonitzer and Anne Fontaine Cast: Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Huppert, Charles Berling, Damien Bonnard, Jonathan Cohen, Benoît Poelvoorde, Pablo Pauly, Richard Fréchette, Vincent Macaigne, Aurore Broutin, Laurent Korcia and Agata Buzek. Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Anne Fontaine offers a modern take on the Snow White fable that’s definitely not Disney-style kiddie fare. Whether “White as Snow” will much appeal to anyone else, though, is a matter of doubt.
The script by Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer actually begins with a bit of a different fable, that of Cinderella. Lovely, naive young Claire (Lou de Laâge) is treated as part of the staff of the luxurious hotel her rich, snooty stepmother Maud (Isabelle Huppert has inherited from the girl’s deceased father. Claire applies herself to her duties, but Maud is angered by the fact that the girl has caught the eye of her lover Bernard (Charles Berling), the manager of the place, even though she’s lost interest in him.
So Maud arranges for Claire to be abducted while out for her regular run. But the girl escapes those who have trundled her off in a car, and winds up in a forest, where rough Pierre (Damien Bonnard), out hunting, saves her by shooting her pursuer. He reluctantly takes her back to his house, where she meets his more amiable twin brother François and their housemate, moody cellist Vincent (Vincent Macaigne), who is so melancholy that his dog is named Chernobyl.
On a trip to town, Vincent introduces Claire to town vet Sam (Jonathan Cohen), who lacks confidence around women. She also meets Charles (Benoît Poelvoorde), the lascivious owner of the village bookstore, and his shy karate-champion son Clément (Pablo Pauly), as well as avuncular Father Guibaud (Richard Fréchette), the priest who oversees the sanctuary that’s reportedly a place of pilgrimage.
That’s seven, if you’re counting, and when Claire settles in the village as a waitress in the café on the square, all of them are enchanted by her, though they act in different ways. Most bed her passionately, but one becomes obsessive and jealous, while another invites her to whip him. The priest becomes a confessor to whom she explains how the experience has liberated her.
Meanwhile Maud, advised by a spooky fortuneteller, determines to kill her stepdaughter, and traces her to the village. Following her there, she feigns regret over their estrangement and reconnects with her. Two of her murder attempts are interrupted by Claire’s admirers, but a third. Following a wild night in a dance club, turns out differently.
Maud gets her comeuppance in Father Guibaud’s sanctuary, but whether it’s the result of one of the miracles that, as Charles and the priest are quick to point out, are reported to occur there, or a more mundane warning about the dangers posed by vigil candles, will be up to the viewer to decide.
There are allusions to the Snow White story scattered through the film besides the seven admirers. Maud has a thing for mirrors, and one delicious episode features a bright red poisoned apple, though it ends with a joke that might have appeared in a silent movie. But with a contemporary eye toward female empowerment, it eschews ending with a reawakening kiss from a prince, though all seven admirers congregate at her side to demonstrate their affection.
The film has undoubted attractions, especially in the gorgeous if dramatically limited de Laâge and the supremely haughty Huppert. None of the men comes close to matching them, and some exaggerate their characters’ tics rather clumsily. Bruno Coulais’ score, with its fairy-tale motifs, is pleasant.
And the film is extraordinarily lovely to look at. With its two gorgeous stars and exteriors shot in the French Alpine regions of Drôme and Isère, beautifully caught in Yves Angelo’s luscious cinematography as well as an elegant production design by Arnaud de Moleron, and magnificent costumes—particularly those for Huppert—designed by Emmanuelle Youchnovski, “White as Snow” always keeps the eye engaged.
But when it comes to the brain or the heart, it’s much less successful.