A classic fairy tale gets a sexy French kick in White as Snow. The fairest of them all is Claire (Lou de Laâge), a stunning but introverted brunette working at a resort run by her widowed stepmother Maud (Isabelle Huppert). When Maud finds out her lover has fallen hard for Claire’s wiles, she has Claire kidnapped and spirited away to the other side of the country, where only a freak car accident and a chance encounter saves her life. She shacks up with two stone-faced, mountain-sized twins named Pierre and François (both played by Damien Bonnard)—but then, she really shacks up with them, while also developing a flirtation with their housemate, introverted cellist Vincent (Vincent Macaigne). Settling into the twins’ house, she explores the nearby village and becomes enamored with its quaint mountainside vibe and its supply of every flavor of handsome Frenchman. But eventually Maud finds out where Claire has been hiding, and arrives in town claiming to be there to safely retrieve her. Will Claire discover her wicked stepmother’s intentions before it’s too late?
Director Anne Fontaine makes her intentions clear early on: no, there’s no nudity in the first two minutes of the film or anything, but the instant the clock clicks over to 2:01? Gratuitous shower scene! It’s too reductive, though, to simply call this movie “Snow White has sex with the Seven Dwarves,” and not just because she doesn’t have sex with all seven of them: the film is about Claire’s awakening—sexually, yes, but also intellectually, romantically, spiritually. Each of the seven men serves as one element of her discovering the joys of adulthood outside of the shadow of her stepmother. Claire is much more than just a pretty face with no personality, and it’s her blossoming that drives the narrative.
The two central performances are strong: de Laâge’s Claire is endearingly mercurial and her personality magnetic, while Huppert’s Maud is a remarkably restrained performance where she skillfully keeps her anger bubbling just below the surface in a way that’s evident but not obvious. The male characters—due to their shear numbers, if nothing else—are a little mushier, more defined by a quirk that makes them different from the others, but it’s what Claire gets out of their varying interactions that makes their presence worthwhile.
White as Snow’s fairy tale trappings work in its favor. The knowledge of what the Brothers Grimm put the original Snow White through lets Fontaine trade in shorthand—an apple appears and you can feel the tension ratchet up. But when it ventures out of that comfort zone, things get a little rougher. Claire’s blossoming is the movie’s central plot, but it’s fumbled at the outset because Fontaine never sells that she isn’t awakened in the early scenes, so when she starts to have sex, it feels random rather than her first step in a new direction. The fact that she was unschooled in the joys of the world is defined later through a reminiscence, which makes the entire narrative drive of the movie start off with a stumble.
Forgive the less than solid footing for the central plot, though, and White as Snow at least looks fantastic. Fontaine’s camera is in love with de Laâge, filming her with a joyous, angelic glow, and hey, this is an erotic thriller, so it’s filled with lovingly filmed sex scenes that (though brief) are frequent and steamy in a way that Hollywood rarely allows itself to be these days. And as much as the camera loves de Laâge, it might be just as in love with the mountainside landscapes of the south of France, which look stunning on Blu-Ray. | Jason Green
White As Snow is distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, and is also available for digital streaming through Kino Now. The film is in French with English subtitles, and the only extra on the disc is the film’s trailer.