There is a moment, maybe a third of the way into Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard, that Eva Green's straitjacketed mother reminded me of Julianne Moore in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. She plays the same kind of self-destructive woman stifled by the society around her - but where the adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel played it for upscale woman's melodrama, Mr. Araki goes for satirical deconstruction.
Ms. Green's Eve Connors is like the perfect 1950s/1960s housewife lost in an 1980s world, and there is never any doubt at any point that she is fully aware of her own self-worth and will break free if needs be - an image of a perfect amazon woman mother taking her life in her hands after years spent in pain as the Perfect Mrs. That the film only truly livens around her, even though it's her disappearance that gets the plot going, is the first problem with Mr. Araki's typically skewed take on Laura Kasischke's novel.
Its plot essentially charts what happens to those Eve leaves behind when she disppears - and in effect shows nobody misses her much, except maybe for the husband (Christopher Meloni) who seemed to look at her as merely a trophy wife. Nominally the heroine is Kat, the rebellious pre-college daughter, who was more of a pet to Eve than an actual daughter until she became old enough to overshadow her; but even an actress as resourceful as Shailene Woodley can't do much with such a passive character, in many ways her mother's daughter in the way she seems to pass by everything in her life without thinking twice about it.
Mr. Araki makes sure to clue us in early that the Connors are hardly a picture of perfection, but Kat isn't really at all interested or challenged by the disappearance; the film seems to be much more interested in showing the strange and elusive mating rituals of 1980s adolescents and pushing the edge of social satire into candy-coloured hues and derisive mockery of the American Dream than in explaining the mystery at its core. Moving forward through leaps of logic that fail to cohere successfully as a narrative or even as a film, with style essentially taking the place of everything and stereotypes filling in for characters, White Bird in a Blizzard ends up as a grossly under-written tale, a half-remembered, half-dreamt would-be-Lynchian score-setting with cookie-cutter America. A disappointing, if moderately pleasant, riot of style and petulant provocation from a director who has often seemed to be destined for bigger and better things and whose best work seems to be behind him.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
France, USA, 2014
Cast Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, Dale Dickey, Mark Indelicato, Sheryl Lee, Angela Bassett
Director, screenwriter and editor Gregg Araki; based on the novel White Bird in a Blizzard by Laura Kasischke; cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen (colour, widescreen); composers Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd; designer Todd Fjelsted; costumes Mairi Chisolm; producers Pascal Caucheteux, Sébastien K. Lemercier, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Pavlina Hatoupis and Mr. Araki; production companies Why Not Productions and Desperate Pictures in co-production with Wild Bunch and Orange Studio
screened May 15th 2015, Lisbon