White as Snow

Directed by Anne Fontaine

Written by Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, Claire Barré

Starring Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Huppert, Charles Berling, Damien Bonnard, Jonathan Cohen

An unexpected purity exists in Anne Fontaine’s “White as Snow,” a tale of revenge and self-discovery, now playing in Phoenix at Harkins Shea.

Lou de Laâge plays Claire, a maid at a posh hotel, now run by her stepmother, Maud (Isabelle Huppert.) Claire gives an innocent vibe in the early stages of the story. Fontaine set the early scenes in a sunny and warm environment. Intentionally bright, the lush scenery obscures the true nature of our two characters.

De Laâge strikes up an innocence as she tends to the poolside, setting out towels on the chaise lounges, daydreaming of things to come. The resort is devoid of guests, but not of eyes. Fontaine modernizes the character with ear buds in her ears, blaring who-knows-what and an alluring image destined to bring trouble in the smallest of corners.

White as Snow” features the lovely Isabelle Huppert, who is as devoid of emotion as the resort is devoid of guests. She means business and when her secret relationship is put to the test, she takes swift action. Huppert glides across the screen, the evilness following suit.

Fontaine, along with co-writers Pascal Bonitzer and Claire Barré, set the stage for Claire’s kidnapping. Cosmopolitan Claire turns to frightened Claire and a wild turn of events lands her in a bleak, but-not-unsafe home in the woods.

It turns out that the twist, not necessarily in story, but in Claire’s environment, is exactly what she needed – no competition for the unsuspecting men in a small, isolated French Alp community. Fontaine takes full advantage of the amazing scenery as Claire uses her charm on seven separate men. These men are not dumb either. Charles Berling plays Bernard, a bookshop owner whose appreciation for art becomes transfixed on Claire. Damien Bonnard plays Pierre, someone just trying to be helpful, but also falls for Claire. The young Sam (Jonathan Cohen) seems the most likely suitor for Claire, in terms of age and, what might be awkward staging in any other director’s hands, their courtship is treated with the utmost respect.

Certainly not to be outdone, Vincent (Vincent Macaigne), Clément (Pablo Pauly), and Charles (Benoȋt Poelvoorde) are all as unsuspecting of Claire as the other. It makes for a grand dramedy in the way Claire exploits the men of this quiet community.

Maud learns of Claire whereabouts and sets out to finish the job she set in motion in her two-seat sports car. Once the two connect again, the seeds of distrust are raised and you feel the walls of reality closing in. Fontaine uses visually striking fashion set the two apart and bridge their stories together. One of my favorite scenes is when Maud and Claire are sitting next to a rushing river, having a picnic when Sam happens upon them. Maud’s evil daggers come out: she’s accommodating while pushing him out of the picture with Claire trying to assuage his concerns about Maud.

Since the film has been out for nearly two years, it isn’t too much to say that “White as Snow” is a fairy tale loosely based on “Snow White.” Fontaine goes so far as to capture a scene that would be reminiscent of that animated tale from so long ago. That “White as Snow” is as original as it is, speaks to Fontaine’s commitment to tell a unique story where Huppert and de Laâge play their respective parts to the hilt.

“White as Snow” is dark humor at its finest and with gorgeous cinematography, tells the fairy tale of the decade.

NR, 112 minutes, Gaumont/Cohen Media Group