Whatever rehabilitation wicked stepmothers have undergone of late encounters a setback in “White as Snow.” Isabelle Huppert brings a frost to her role as Maud in the director Anne Fontaine’s darkly playful gloss on the Snow White saga. Lou de Laâge portrays the hotelier’s shy, impossibly lovely stepdaughter and rival, Claire.
This is fairy tale as comedically aware thriller. There are red apples; red, red dresses; and long, self-appraising glances into the mirror on Maud’s part. Of course, her jealousy is misdirected. Her husband, Bernard (Charles Berling), is a besotted fool, trying to assuage his own anxieties about aging. But the die is cast, nonetheless.
Once Claire finds herself deep in the woods, conveyed there by a hired killer and saved by a hunter with a twin back at a large stone farmhouse, nature gets its redolent due, with farmland and forest providing a backdrop to sexual congress. Claire’s brush with death frees her of any erotic inhibitions but never represses her ample decency and kindness. (How many men does Claire encounter? Seven, naturally.)
Quite a few of the film’s pleasures come by way of its fluid tango with the source material. Fontaine and her co-writer, Pascal Bonitzer, manage several didn’t-see-that-coming zags. Nods to Hitchcock abound with the aid of the cinematographer Yves Angelo’s tracking shots and the composer Bruno Coulais’s low foreboding notes.
As satisfying as Huppert is, the movie dances on the pinpoint of de Laâge’s performance. The name Claire signifies light and clarity, and there’s a transparency to de Laâge’s portrayal of this innocent who remains thus while discovering a lavish sensuality.
White as Snow
Not rated. In French with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. In theaters.
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