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White Mane

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 8, 2015

White Mane, Albert Lamorisse’s other, much less famous kids’ film, has a number of things going for it, providing pleasure and interest at a number of points. For one thing, it is a terrific demonstration of what the Soviet film pioneers of the 1920s (Lev Kuleshov, V.I. Pudovkin) called creative geography. This means that it’s a complete editorial contrivance, its various locations being clearly shot in and then cobbled together from all over the place. Still, as with Pudovkin’s creatively geographic Chess Fever (1925), or, say, Orson Welles’ protean 1951 version of Othello, the crafty cutting of all these disparate images carries an almost hypnotic power of suggestion. Cuts cohere! This is a kids’ movie, but also a very clear example of one of the medium’s most basic formal, even philosophical characteristics. It’s a great thing to learn about, and to try out for yourself too.

White Mane is also a fine Robert Flaherty-like film. That is to say that there’s not much socio-political actuality, but it sure is compelling, mythologically speaking. The balance is right because, like Flaherty, Lamorisse and his collaborators make time for processes (fisherman craft, domestic arrangements—Junior!—horse breaking), the which actually push the entire film into a category of hybridized, documentary fiction. The story is exciting, but there are deeper patterns of doing and being that enhance and lend gravity to the surface goings-on.

I noticed that the boy and the stallion have a nearly identical hairdo.

The film’s conclusion is impressively gallopsome, and it basically leads us to conclude that adults are bad. The Little Prince! I should state that this prevalent kids’ culture thesis (what is The Polar Express [or E.T.] really telling you?) is something of a pet peeve of mine. The notion of inherent adult ineptitude or perfidy may be kind of flattering for the kids, but its not very helpful to them. It’s not very accurate either. Your parents mostly do take care of you, after all.

Some ending! If you want you can conclude that the innocent horse and boy have finally gotten away from all of the world’s exploitation and malice, that they’ve escaped to find their Pied Piper’s utopia. For my part, I think that they simply drowned. (That, of course, is another way to look at The Pied Piper. Compare, if you’d like: This conclusion both suggests and locates some of White Mane‘s basic elusiveness, its troubling richness. The film is compelling and mysterious, made up of equal parts elation and deep melancholy. In this way it quite resembles Lamorisse’s more celebrated The Red Balloon, or, say, the surprisingly not dissimilar Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). They all happily end with the loss of children, the dissolution of families. These films are all very powerful as you watch them, and yes, they provide powerful life-related metaphors even as they are steeped in fantasy. But the implications are troubling!

Does all this ultimately add up to a bad review, or a warning to parents? Not a bit of it. The world of children’s commercial media is often-to-usually bland or materialistic, or blandly materialistic. It’s not so often that you find something as deep and dangerous as White Mane, unless maybe in the complete works of Hans Christian Andersen. As the folklorists almost always affirm, our kids could actually use a bit more of this poetically evocative and exhilaratingly unsettling fare.