WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
Written and directed by Gregg Araki and based on a book by Laura Kasischke, this fascinating and involving film tells the story of Katrina (Shailene Woodley), a teen who is dealing with the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her mother, Eve (Eva Green). On the outside, Kat is trying to move on with her life, as years pass, but not knowing her mother’s fate and not having closure, is eating her up on the inside. Her father, Brock (Christopher Meloni) seems oblivious, as does her stoner boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and even finding herself in the arms of the older cop (Tom Jane), who investigated her mother’s case, isn’t enough to bring her peace. While trying to keep an outwardly composed appearance, she reminisces back on her mother’s odd behavior before she disappeared and is haunted by strange dreams that won’t let her rest till she gets some answers…but will she?
Gregg Araki creates a film that is both quiet and yet very powerful as he tells the story of Katrina, who is trying to go on with her life while dealing with the internal struggle of having no answers to her questions…and not much help getting those answers from those around her. Her mother appeared to be a troubled woman in their final moments together and the marriage between she and Kat’s father never seemed to really work, but this only creates more questions than it provides clues or answers. Did her mother just up and leave, or was it something darker that befell her? Araki paints a beautiful and haunting portrait of a young woman seeking closure, both with a striking visual style and a subtle emotional power. He presents you with clues in flashbacks and dreams seen through Kat’s eyes, but like Kat, we still get no solid answers or inner peace. As seen from the young girl’s perspective, Araki gives us a colorful portrayal of a picture-perfect housewife who is slowly coming apart as the imperfection and boredom of her real life sets in. Despite their dysfunctional relationship toward the end, there’s a hole in Kat’s life and it can only be filled by answers she may not get…or closure she may never have. Araki takes us on a journey with Kat, who can’t truly be at peace, though she tries, till she finds the truth and the journey here is more important than the actual destination…and the destination may not be one that Kat expected or will want to accept. Araki does it all with a touch of fairy tale whimsy that somehow works perfectly. On a technical level the film is gorgeous with cinematography by Sandra Valde-Hansen and a fitting 80s style score…the film takes place from 1988 to 1991…by composer Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, who co-founded the Cocteau Twins. A film that equals the sum of it’s parts.
Araki’s skilled and visually stunning direction is further enhanced with knock-out performances from all his cast. Woodley is a powerhouse in her portrayal of a woman trying to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of her mother and wanting desperately to just go on with her life. Despite her facade, she is slowly fragmenting inside. She is wonderful. Eva Green is also amazing as a woman who starts out as June Cleaver and slowly crumples into Joan Crawford as she realizes that this is as good as her life is going to get…and it’s not what she wants. Christopher Meloni gives us a man who seems oblivious and unable to stand up to his wife’s increasingly belligerent behavior. Once she’s gone, he seems to operate in a perpetual fog as he can’t seem to function emotionally without a woman who increasingly let it be known she didn’t love him. It’s a performance that is subtle, but has it’s layers as the story goes on. Fernandez is also strong playing the stoner Phil. He may appear to be lost in a purple haze, but there is more going on than it appears and Fernandez conveys that well, especially in the film’s revelatory final act. Jane is also good as Detective Scieziesciez, the older man and police officer from Eve’s case. He actually seems to care for Kat and Jane does nice work keeping him from coming across as a two dimensional jerk. Kat and he at first seem to use each other, but it appears to be more as the story progresses and the actors convey this in subtle but effective ways. A great cast doing great work.
I loved this movie. I really have nothing negative to say about it. Nothing is perfect, but it’s imperfections are minor and really inconsequential when you view all that Araki get’s right. It’s an emotional journey that is exceptionally acted and one that is also subtly a mystery. A mystery where, despite all the clues and possibilities, you won’t quite see where it’s heading…and yet, it still all makes sense. Great direction, great writing and strong acting from all the cast. A great little indie movie. Also features Ava Acres (At The Devil’s Door) as 8 year old Kat and Angela Bassett as Kat’s therapist.
Rated 4 (out of 4) stars… not going to get smarmy on this one, a great little movie.