Lou de Laâge, the star of Fontaine’s 2016 psychological horror film “The Innocents,” plays Snow White, only she’s named Claire. The story somewhat distractedly gloms itself onto “Cinderella” as well, in that Claire works at a hotel that used to be owned by her late father but has passed into the clutches of her wicked stepmother Maud (Huppert). Maud is so jealous of Claire’s youth and beauty that she hires an assassin to kill her, but the attempt is botched and Claire ends up staying in a beautiful house in the woods and being cared for by seven men from the local community. The men are of various ages and body types, but most are upfront about their desire for the heroine (an eighth man in Claire’s life is a local priest played by Richard Fréchette, who eventually tries to save Maud’s soul as well).
Fontaine has had success making films that play around with various genres, including the picaresque tale starring a fool (represented by three comedies focusing on the character of Augustine Dos Santos); the biographical drama (“Coco Before Chanel“); the postmodern riff on a classic novel (“Gemma Bovery“), and the gothic family horror film (“How I Killed My Father”). This one doesn’t really come together, in large part because the heroine doesn’t seem to have been fully thought-through by Fontaine and cowriter Pascal Bonitzer in terms of consistent motivation, something a main character needs even in a fairy tale.
In theory, Claire’s sexual adventurism is a response to being repeatedly being characterized as “pure,” but the movie never manages to go deeper. The result often makes it feel like Claire is sleeping with various “dwarves” because she can’t figure out what else to do with herself. And despite Claire sometimes carrying on like a newly liberated woman from a sexually explicit, conversation-starting 1970s novel like Fear of Flying (“I didn’t know what desire was,” Claire says at one point, “but now I do”), the movie incidentally validates a lot of the ideas that humanity appears to have recently taken baby steps towards growing beyond. For instance, that it’s charming for a man to grab or kiss a woman that he desires without her consent, as long as he’s an awkward goofball who means well; and that a young body is being wasted if it’s not having a lot of sex; and that older women are innately threatened by younger ones because so much social currency is bound up in one’s looks, and it’s the natural order of things. (Maud is constantly checking her appearance in every available reflective surface.)
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