Gregg Araki is one of my favourite directors, and has been since I discovered his work in my late teens (or early twenties). I prefer his films on the more bizarre end of the spectrum (Nowhere, The Doom Generation, Kaboom, etc.), but I still love his less strange films. So, I was excited when White Bird in a Blizzard was announced. The premise sounded interesting (I love mysteries!) and it was going to star Eva Green? How could that get any better. It wasn’t well received, but Araki’s films rarely seem to be (except maybe Mysterious Skin) and his work falls definitely in the Love or Hate category (or, perhaps, ‘get it’ or ‘don’t get it’). I think it’s hard to explain to those who don’t ‘get’ Araki’s work, why his films are so enjoyable and so great. (Maybe someone else has the capacity to describe their appeal beyond flailing and gushing, but I sure don’t).
So I went into White Bird with caution, but I shouldn’t have because I loved it. It’s not surprising – usually when it comes to my favourites I’m rarely disappointed. I’m not particularly discerning or critical, especially when it comes to both mysteries and movies about teen girls. The story centres on Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), whose mother, Eve (Eva Green), goes missing when she’s seventeen years old. The story is told in scenes from the present day (1988), flashbacks of Eve’s earlier life narrated by Kat’s voiceover, before taking us forward to 1991, with still no word of Eve’s whereabouts.
It’s photographed beautifully, has a dreamlike quality to it, and the soundtrack is superb (as always). Araki definitely knows how to make a stylish film. I love that he is equally capable of crafting the absurd atmospheres of Nowhere and The Doom Generation as he is something less ‘out there’, but equally surreal in its own way, as White Bird.
The performances were all fantastic, particularly Shailene Woodley and Eva Green (who always steals the show IMHO). Eva Green really was the highlight of the film, playing bored, and deeply unhappy, housewife Eve, without being a cliche. Chris Meloni was really good, too. The changes in his character were so subtle. I like that the tone of the film was really different to most mysteries. It wasn’t particularly creepy, or unsettling in an overt way, and the sense of loss is quite subtle. The mystery itself is not particularly substantial, nor did I find it overly shocking, but that’s fine. The rest of the journey made up for it, for me. It’s not an edge-of-your seat thriller but I found beauty in its quietness.
There is definitely a distance, perhaps even a coldness to Woodley’s character, but as someone who finds it difficult to connect on an emotional level (to other people, anyway, no issues connecting emotionally to films or fictional characters), I didn’t see that as a bad thing. And with the way Eve treated Kat, it’s easy to see why she would block the way her mother’s disappearance affected her, just brushed it off as another ‘crazy’ thing her mother had done. (Instead of accepting it as a painful experience that actually happened to her).
Once again, I’m fairly certain I’m in the minority with loving this film, but I’m OK with that (I’ve recently realised I have a tendency to fall for films that were panned by audiences and critics alike). But, as much as I loved this, I really do prefer when Araki goes for anarchic and absurd.