Sunday 19 October 2014

London Film Festival 2015: White Bird in a Blizzard/Spring

Gregg Araki remains one of the true survivors of the wave of US indie directors who emerged in the late 80's/90's, one who has remained faithful to his own style and never been tempted by the big bucks of Hollywood studios. Some have criticised him for essentially making films that are always about the same theme: teenagers, which is an unfair accusation, as if other true auteurs were ever subjected to the same complaint. Besides his visual talent has evolved from the early grubby, grungy days of the 90's to an almost purest, pop-art like simplicity, as witnessed by his previous film, the wonderful Kaboom.

In White Bird in a Blizzard, he widens his scope somehow, even though the film remains as its core the study of a teenager girl. Going back and forth between the past and present, this is the coming of age tale of Kat (Shailene Woodley, impressive), whose life is thrown into turmoil when here mum Eve (Eva Green) vanishes without a trace. And her memory and the will to find out what happened to her never leaves her as she negotiate the pitfalls and awakenings of her life as a young adult.

While more restrained in style than usual, and actually adapted from a novel this time, White Bird in a Blizzard remains a Gregg Araki film through and through. The stylised visual flair remains and scenes of friendship between Kat and former high school friends (Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato) evoke his earlier work. There is a teenage ennui pervading throughout, with the evocative presence of the Cocteau Twins in the soundtrack,  and the discrete portrayal of the loss of her innocence (see a very charged scene of seduction between Kat and a very masculine older man (played by Thomas Jane) and their subsequent liaison).

Most impressive of all however is Eva Green as Eve. Her stylised acting here works wonders, in the part of a bored housewife, slightly alcoholic and über glamorous in an old Hollywood kind of way, resentful of the lost of her youth and of her daughter becoming a woman.

Hot on the heels of indie, cerebral gem Resolution, directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson return with a story that literally puts the love back into Lovecraft. In Spring, directionless Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) pretty much flees his small town in the USA after a drunken altercation at a bar turned violent, and finds himself on an impromptu, backpacking tour of Europe. Having met and followed the most annoying cockney geezers in the history of cinema (and I wish American directors stopped being fascinated by those), he settles for a small town on the coast of Italy where he meets the mysterious Louise (Nadia Hiker), who carrie even more emotional luggage than he does, not to mention a terrible secret.

Romance and horror are two genres that are seldom married, and with mixed results, but the young pair of directors perfectly pull it off. At times, the film feels like we are in the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, with a burgeoning young love and some very naturalistic dialogues that feel very real. But this is also a horror films and tentacles erupt and douche bros get sliced in showers of blood. And yet, as unlikely as it sounds, this works, more and more as those conflicting elements become intertwined and find a balance, all the way to the end. While the whole "American teen in danger abroad" has been done to death (so to speak), this is no Hostel. There is no cheap stereotype, no taking parts, and if anything, the directors seem in awe with the beauty of the surroundings and its old history, which makes it refreshing. Praise also has to be given to the two leads who make us believe this very unlikely love story thanks to some heartfelt performances and evident chemistry.

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