“White Shadow” (2013): Digging in the Dumps (Review)

In White Shadow a black albino boy is left to fend for himself after body snatchers come for his father and his valuable albino body parts. That’s the reality that faces black albinos in Tanzania, but how well does the film convey this?

There’s a scene near the middle of the film where kids are playing in a garbage dump, creating entertainment out of nothing. The children make the mundane fun, in stark contrast to White Shadow isn’t, not that it’s supposed to be, but it really isn’t much of anything. It’s muddled, lost like its main character with no sense of direction or purpose. The film quickly loses track of its base premise, the initially gripping story of witch doctors paying for white albino body parts simply disappears after the opening surfacing only once before the film’s finale. What starts as a journey to safety stagnates after it reaches its first way point, which turns out to be its only way point.

Tanzania is a world that feels alien; human life is worthless practically worthless becoming more of a currency for certain tonics and enchantments. These interesting thematic elements, along with things such as the tension between these witchcraft beliefs and Christianity, get completely lost in the shuffle. Rarely has so little of worth taken place in a film that is so hectic.

The film grabs you at the beginning, with its raw, brutal aesthetic and harsh, frenetic floating cinematography. But these strengths become weaknesses. These technical decisions make it difficult, if not impossible to get a handle on characters, it’s difficult to invest when you’re not even sure who’s on screen and what the relation is between them. Not only that but character developments take huge leaps and bounds with little explanation, the love story between the main character and his apparent niece being a prime example. The film is just so frequently incomprehensible, with much of it feeling like the stuff Terrence Malick would leave on the cutting room floor.

Some of the other aesthetic choices work marginally better. The use of focus, or lack there off, often gives you the feeling of being an intruder and the otherworldly ambient music does contribute to a sense of unease. However as the film actively pushes you away these elements help to keep you away from it, becoming uncomfortable in ways that it doesn’t intend.

As darkness envelops the main character in a second act scene you only barely spot him by a small light in the dark. That’s what White Shadow is: A bright core surrounded by an endless ocean of impenetrability.

The Good: The aesthetics early on.
The Bad: The aesthetics as the film goes on.
The Ugly: How dull and uninteresting it is given how bad the real life situation is.

Overall: 4.1/10

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Written By Sverrir Sigfusson

Tall, dark and handsome. Student of film theory at the University of Iceland. Purveyor of news and reviews. Consumer of fine music, quality films and fantastic video games. Opinionated and brutally honest yet totally nice and a huge fan of colorful pants.

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  • So is this a documentary?

  • Sverrir Sigfússon

    It kinda looks like one in parts, but no, it’s a fictional film.

  • Three Rows Back

    Very nice work. Not a film I’ve seen and to be honest that probably won’t change now!

  • Sverrir

    Thanks. It was actually quite an ordeal to get this reviewed. Saw it at RIFF back in October but was barred from reviewing it because it had been accepted to Sundance. Having to wait so long for a film that wasn’t really that good was a bit disappointing.