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Hormonal Haiku: Gregg Araki’s White Bird In A Blizzard (2014) – cinema review

March 6, 2015 by Simon Kinnear in In Cinemas with 0 Comments

A notably mature handling of perennial themes by a one-time enfant terrible, this is so exquisitely measured that Araki has no room for his trademark craziness.

1 White Bird In A Blizzard

White Bird In A Blizzard
(Gregg Araki, 2014)

For a director like Gregg Araki, whose primary subject has always been youth, there is a nagging tension between ‘growing old’ and ‘growing up’ that is never going to go away. If his last film, the skittishly naughty Kaboom!, saw Araki return to the irreverence of his own cinematic youth, White Bird In A Blizzard is an altogether more sober reflection on his perennial themes.

While blessed with a strong cast – there are supporting turns from Angela Bassett and Thomas Jane – this is a notably female oriented film, with Shailene Woodley’s teenager Kat struggling to deal with the sudden disappearance of her ethereal mother, Eve (Eva Green). Inevitably, this being Araki, her reaction takes the form of sexual abandon, with Woodley surprisingly game for an A-lister to the director’s habitual focus on flesh. Yet, as the title suggests, there’s an existential absence at the centre of her actions – like her mother, she too is somehow disappearing.

Araki conveys this with commendable control for a director notorious for going crazy; of his previous films, it’s closest to the maturity of Mysterious Skin. While the dialogue has his characteristically affectless, jokily banal talk, there’s a formal precision to the camerawork with stiflingly symmetrical compositions – the conformist cage against which the characters are fighting. Unusually, there’s the sense that, no matter how warped the story gets, everything looks outwardly ‘normal’.

At heart, this is a tale of surburban dysfunction, and if the late 80s/early 90s time period suggests Twin Peaks, it’s little surprise when Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer, turns up. Woodley actually has something of one of that series’ girls about her, a nice girl tempted to do nasty things, and Green, with her blazing eyes and retro fashions, is a very Lynchian vamp.

Disappointingly, though, there’s a disconnect between the surreal soap opera of the story and Araki’s distanced telling of it. The film is too aloof for its own good; the ending in particular fizzles out with key revelations recounted in voiceover. The chilliness of the film’s barometer prevents the dramatic fireworks that another director – even Araki, in another life – might have preferred. Maybe he is growing up, after all. What a shame.

White Bird In A Blizzard is out in cinemas today, and on demand, DVD and Blu-ray on 16th March.

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