White on White, Theo Court, Chile, 2019
By: Claus Mueller
WHITE ON WHITE, 2019 (Blanco en Blanco) is the second feature by the Cuban trained director Théo Court who grew up in Chile and Spain. White on White has a superb cast, exquisite photography by Jose Alayon, and a factually based screenplay, stripped down to essentials by Théo Court and Samuel Delgado. Set more than 100 years ago in the desolate Tierra del Fuego region of southern Argentine, the narrative focuses on a dozen European descendants and a few barely visible indigenous people. Funded by European Union agencies with support from Chile, Spain, France, and Germany, White on White has received several awards from the Venice Film Festival and has become an outstanding thought promoting nominee submitted by Chile for the 2022 Oscar Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.
White on White excels with its somber, persuasive, and subdued presentation of the killings of native individuals. Julius Porter, a white farmer not shown in the film, wants to get control of native lands and measures his success by the number of native ears his armed workers deliver to him. They also state that it is better to kill female natives, to better prevent them from having children. Mostly shot in winterly and fall landscapes, White on White is centered on the photographer, Pedro, with a stunning performance by Alfredo Castro.
Pedro was hired to take images of Sara, Julius Porter’s child bride, and their upcoming wedding, but is not given a date for the final ceremony. Pedro makes few comments apart from positioning Sara’s poses, but he develops a covert attachment to her and is beaten up for this by Porter’s workers. Pedro is forced to take images of work crews hunting down and killing natives. Pedro’s reaction remains passive. No matter what he is tasked to do, Pedro follows the commands and continues perfecting his professional work.
He requests proper positioning of the hunters and their slain victims, provides precise instructions on restaging a killing that took place earlier, and shows anger for losing the light at sunset. Pedro has some expressive facial gestures but retains his persistent posture as a spectator, remaining unfazed by the sexual abuse of women and the killing of the indigenous people he carefully observes. His eyes seem to be as detached as the lenses on his camera, following only technical rules. White on White depicts colonial violence through an understated, yet graphic, low-key cinematic narration. Pedro’s silence symbolizes the total disconnection from moral considerations of Julius Porter, fellow land grabbers, and their willing facilitators, but also Pedro’s immurement in conditions beyond his control.
WHITE ON WHITE is an illuminating feature not to be missed.
New York Claus Mueller