French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse is probably best known for his 1956 children's film, The Red Balloon but it was the 1953 short film White Mane (or, if you prefer, Crin-Blanc) that first won him critical acclaim. Shot in a remote area of southern France, it's a visually stirring and unusual kids film that tells the tried but true story of a kid and his attachment to an animal - in this case, a beautiful white horse.
In this remote area of France, packs of wild horses roam the countryside, completely free. One horse stands out from the rest, because he's colored white while the rest of the horses are black and brown. He appears to be the leader of the group, and as such, the local horse ranchers take an interest in him. Eventually the cowboys catch him and bring him to their ranch though he fights them every step of the way and eventually escapes.
A young boy named Falco (Alain Emery) lives near the ranch with his grandfather and his young brother. The grandfather is a poor fisherman and the small family doesn't have much, but Falco too watches White Mane and when he witnesses the horses escape, he heads out into the swamp to find the horse himself. The cowboys give up on finding him and say that whoever can capture the horse can keep him. Of course, Falco befriends the horse and the cowboys soon change their story, at which point both boy and horse find themselves on the run, all of which leads up to a very unorthodox and unexpected conclusion.
Beautifully shot in an almost documentary style, White Mane does a fantastic job of capturing the rugged landscape where its little morality play takes place. The film features very little dialogue and instead tells its tale using body language and long, lingering shots that don't necessarily build much tension but which do manage to make this picture a fairly emotional experience. It's certainly easy to sympathize with both the titular horse and his newfound friend as the movie plays out and their collective desire to get away from everyone else. These two really only want their freedom though the selfish nature of the society around them just doesn't want that to happen.
Fairly heavy stuff for a kids film, maybe, but topics like this have been touched on from everything from The Black Stallion (to which this film shares some similarities) to more recent pictures like Free Willy.
White Mane is presented in its original 1.33.1 aspect ratio, picture boxed, and properly flagged for progressive scan playback. The black and white image quality is strong throughout with a little bit of grain and the odd mild instance of print damage showing up now and again. Detail is strong in both the foreground and the background and contrast is dead on. All in all, the film looks very nice on this DVD.
The primary track is the original French language mix presented here in Dolby Digital Mono with optional and typo free English subtitles. An English dub track has also been included. Audio quality is fine throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Levels are properly balanced and both mixes sound nice and clean. Granted, they aren't particularly fancy tracks to begin with but there's really nothing to complain about here, the DVD sounds just fine.
The only supplement on the disc itself, save for some menus, is a quick trailer that advertises the feature and The Red Balloon, released by Janus Films/The Criterion Collection on the same day as White Mane. Inside the keepcase is an eight page insert containing a three page essay on the film Michael Koresky alongside a few choice stills from the film and a listing of the film's eleven chapter stops.
White Mane may have originally been intended for a children's audience and there's no doubt that kids will still enjoy the feature today. That said, the picture is so well shot and so interesting looking that it's hard to imagine it won't appeal to adults just as much, if not more. Criterion/Janus Films have given this incredibly artsy kids film a very nice looking release and while more extras would have been keen, the low MSRP and nice video quality along with the quality of the feature itself ensure this disc a solid recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.