Pitch perfect and finely crafted
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD Directed by Gregg Araki. Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett. Cert 16, select release, 91mins Is cinema broken? How is that a film by a director as significant as Gregg Araki ends up with such a tiny release? And an excellent film, at that?
Adapted from Laura Kasischke’s deceptively sunny California noir of the same name, White Bird in a Blizzard sees Shailene Woodley polish and perfect the bright yet naïve tone she stuck in The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars. Here she plays Kat, whose fragmented flashbacks take us through the late-1980s as her highly strung, Oedipally challenged mother (Eva Green) goes missing.
Kat is too self-absorbed and caught up in sexual awakening to notice the blindingly obvious murder mystery on her own doorstep. Instead, she pursues a stoner ex-boyfriend before moving on to the cop (Thomas Jane) investigating her mum’s disappearance, much to the delight of her gossipy, campy best friends ( Ugly Betty’s Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe from Precious).
True Queer Cinema, the kind made by Greg Araki or Bruce la
Snow blind: a murder mystery on her doorstep
Bruce, isn’t just about gay themes, it’s about queering the notion of being queer. In this spirit, White Bird is a strange, omni-sexual beast that seems to rub uncontrollably against everything. Its sex scenes are few, yet potent – its virginity loss scene is one of the best of its kind – yet sex is never off its mind.
Death, too, lurks in the margins, not just because Kat is plagued by dreams of a ghostly version of her mother, but because she speaks and thinks with the same emotionally deadened tone that afflicted the more psychotic creations found in Araki’s early Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, a sequence comprising Totally F**ked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere.
Shot over 19 days with a wink toward Douglas Sirk, every element, from Sandra Valde-Hansen’s cinematography to the ambient post-Cocteau noises of Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, is pitch perfect. Every performance – even the little cameos from Frozen River’s Dale Dickey and Twin Peaks’s Sheryl Lee – is finely crafted.
The director deftly plays with the chronology but never allows the material to become inaccessible. Just when we think we’re two steps ahead of the plot, Araki blindsides the lot of us. Well played, sir.