Hollywood’s recent obsession with European folk tales is based on two major premises: A. None of the post-Tolkien fantasy-adaptions have worked as well as hoped for (remember the desastrous „Golden Compass“?), and B. the film rights couldn’t be more affordable and easier to get. Nevertheless, the studios don’t seem to have a decent amount of trust in the effectiveness and marketability of the classic material and hence keep deciding to level the original stories of wonder, angst, darkness and desire by means of digestible genre-shifting. Take for instance the recent transformation of Snow White into a medieval Jeanne D’Arc as portrayed by Kristen Stewart. Not that there would be anything wrong with such an approach but it is about as close to its source as „Twilight“ is to „Dracula“. Examples like this one prove more than anything that there doesn’t seem to be much interest in letting the spirit of the original tales shine through.
As ever so often it takes an independent micro-budget production to fill the void. In this case it’s „Rose White“, a half hour short film that offers some of the most convincing variations on a classic fairy tale in years while at the same time delivers a very modern twist. Loosely based on „Snow-White and Rose-Red”, a lesser known narration from Volume 2 of the Grimm Brothers’ famous „Children’s and Household Tales”, the plot centers around two sisters living on the edge of society where every day is a struggle for survival. But while the older one, Rosalyn, works as a prostitute in order to make a living, Lilly, the younger one, has escaped into an enchanted fantasy world of fairies and unicorns. It’s an obvious assumption that she suffers from a profound trauma, but the film remains quiet about it for a while, if only to let things erupt even more fatally later on.
Subtly, the film starts off from Lilly’s point of view, drags the audience into her colorful and mystical interpretation of things until the camera pulls back and reveals a dismal and miserable reality. The perspective will change again and capture the world with the young girl’s eyes more than once, but the contrasting images of the life she denies to see couldn’t differ more. Additionally, a continuous voice-over accompanies the onscreen-events with text excerpts from the orginal tale, and thus blurring the two levels of perception even more. Simulating an omniscient narrator while at the same time spoken with Lilly’s voice, it leads to an almost Brechtian distancing effect since there is no explainable source within the film itself that justifies the device.
The bear of the Grimm tale happens to be a deluding drug addict, but the younger sister perceives him as an animal in need and harbors him curiously. It’s in interesting vampire motif that resonates here as the Bear, who has been observing Rosalyn for a while before, needs the sisters’ permission to enter their home in order to exploit them for his own sinister purposes. He also marks the central turning point where the film leaves any remaining lightness of the source material behind and trades it for doom and destiny leading up to a finale that is as convincing as it is disturbing.
But it is not the well-designed and at times noir-ish plotline in the first place that makes „Rose White“ such an exceptional and memorable piece of film. What lingers on repeated viewing is an overall sense of sadness and emotional involvement that ties the scenes together and makes each of them indispensable. The heart of this is Lilly, a character so simple on the surface and yet so complex beneath that she functions as a personification of the fairy tale itself. The scars and the darkness that she carries deep inside are not just hidden and repressed but also mirrored by the fantasy world she creates.
Deneen Melody portrays Lilly with poignant fragility and a childlike innocence that is visibly shattered. It was a good choice to keep the younger sister mute as it provided the actress with the chance to restrict herself to glances and gestures that allow an immediate emotional access. Watching Lilly to try and keep her make-believe up against the threat of reality is touching and painful at the same time and it’s due to the actress that the believability of the character never loses the necessary balance.
Based on an original concept by Deneen Melody, „Rose White“ was written and co-directed by Daniel Kuhlman who approaches every frame with care and never just shoots for the sake of shooting. A sweeping and dramatic score by Matt Novack („Wanderlust“) keeps the audience emotionally involved and a fine cast (including a disciplined performance by Erin Breen as Rosalyn that counteracts the ethereal nature of Lilly) allows the characters to feel real. All in all, this is a contemporary dark and beautiful declaration of love to the spirit of European folk tales that doesn’t shy away from their at times disturbing relation to violence, death and sexual abuse.
The film is about to start the festival circuit shortly and deserves to attract as much attention as possible. Go and see it if you can. [LZ]
[Images courtesy of Breakwall Pictures LLC | TinyCore Pictures]
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