Théo Court’s Blanco En Blanco (White on White) is an undeniably challenging watch, a slow-burner delivering hard to swallow themes in a quiet yet impactful manner. Shot with a lingering visual beauty, this Chilean picture parallels this with a stark, unflinching glimpse at native genocide and the troubling repercussions of the male gaze.
Diving into the difficult history of South America’s Tierra del Fuego fin de siecle, Blanco En Blanco takes us to the cusp of the twentieth century where wedding photographer Pedro (Alfredo Castro) is tasked with photographing the pre-teen bride of wealthy landowner Mr. Porter. Unable to leave after an indiscretion Pedro is tasked with documenting the land-clearings and brutal deaths of the indigenous Selknam people.
A film of two clear thematic halves, the first exploring Pedro’s uncomfortable obsessive behaviour regarding child bride Sara. Delving into themes of creative obsession, the photographer sees a beauty in Sara which crosses a line delving into inappropriateness. Opening with Pedro’s arrival at the Porter house – Mr. Porter is an unseen omnipresence throughout the narrative – where a lingering and meticulous photoshoot with Sara sets the tone for the photographer’s unhealthy attraction. Court captures this with a fly on the wall intensity, with the darkened and decaying period interiors juxtaposing the beauty Pedro sees in the young bride. This quiet, unassuming visual style only adds to the slow-burn intensity of Blanco En Blanco.
Exploring the Southern Chilean lands surrounding Porter’s estate, gives the events a small, simmering impact. These near inhospitable snow-covered rural locales dwarf the characters and bolster the eerie sense of isolation that plagues its inhabitants. This adds an uncomfortable sense of helplessness and unease to the proceedings – especially as the film dips into the violent male gaze and the maltreatment of indigenous women.
After Pedro’s indiscretion with Sara, Blanco En Blanco sees Pedro forced to document the activities of Porter’s men – where the photographer essentially becomes party to native genocide “We want a record because we’re making history,” notes his employer’s henchman. Whilst tonally the film delves into horrifying new ground, it retains its quiet stylistically – slow pans, limited use of music (the noises of the weather adding to the sense of cold isolation), and sparing use of dialogue – yet still hits with a chilling, unsettling impact.
Alfredo Castro’s Pedro is the pained professional – unable to leave the rural location, yet still bringing his skill as a photographer to the most horrifying of tasks. This is encapsulated in the film’s ridiculous yet macabre final scene which sees the photographer bringing his meticulous direction to a shot celebrating the murder of a Selknam tribe. The silent pained expressions of an indigenous member of Porter’s party also deliver devastating blows, as a man forced to witness the abuses and destruction of his own people.
A quiet yet commanding piece, Blanco En Blanco is a hard hitting watch that rightfully does not shy away from documenting a chilling piece of history.