Very little happens over the course of Blanco en Blanco (White on White), and yet each series of vignettes feels thematically tied to the vicious landscape and culture of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the turn of the twentieth century. Pedro has arrived on this remote, austere Chilean island to photograph the wedding of powerful landowner Mr Porter (never seen) and his child bride Sara. While initially disconcerted by his new place of work, Pedro finds himself drawn into a world of colonial greed and systemic exploitation.

A queasy artistry frames the proceedings. Much of the violence and abuse takes place off screen or at a distance, and only its beginnings or immediate aftermath are shown in detail. Women are silent and silenced; Sara’s body is framed through Pedro’s lens but she speaks only once. Likewise, indigenous servants are trotted out for white male entertainment and tribes are hunted for white male pride.

Unfortunately, Blanco en Blanco is so slowly paced and dramatically disjointed that its plot and pictures of violence lose focus and impact. Not even José Ángel Alayón’s cinematography, which captures the haunting ways in which the endless landscape changes minute by minute, can provide an aesthetic thread. Some shots feel deliberately disorientating, but the effect of this is muddied by narrative incoherence. The one-take final scene still proves profoundly disquieting in its subject matter and craftsmanship; had the rest of the film created a more coherent base for this climactic moment, its weight may have been profound.

Films focusing on the darkest, most unpleasant, and basest sides of humanity – specifically, imperialist and patriarchal forces – often walk a fine line between exploration and exploitation. Despite its ambitious scope and severe, stunning scenery, Blanco en Blanco does not have the narrative or thematic focus to justify its nastiness.

RATING: 2/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Alfredo Castro, David Pantaleón, Lola Rubio

DIRECTOR: Théo Court

WRITERS: Théo Court, Samuel M. Delgado

SYNOPSIS: A photographer arrives in Tierra del Fuego to photograph the child bride of a powerful local landowner.

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