White Lies
Music Video Distributors // Unrated // $19.95 // December 4, 2001
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 30, 2002
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Catherine Chapman (Sarah Polley) has just started attending a local Canadian university, and her parents have graciously offered to cover the costs of her dorm and tuition. All other expenses will have to be provided by Catherine herself, but her job hunt hits a snag when a prospective employer asks her if she's bilingual. She replies positively, noting her six years of French courses, to which she's told, "No, do you speak Cantonese?" Catherine is frustrated that she's expected to accomodate so many dissimilar languages and cultures even just to flip burgers, and she vents her feelings to a speaker during the school's "One World Week" conference. Reporter Alan Green basically calls her a racist in response, contributing further to Catherine's distaste for political correctness. He inspires Catherine to pen a vitriolic paper about the homogenization of society entitled "Christmas Is Dead", to which an unamused professor gives her an F. She dismisses the opportunity to rewrite it, though she's able to score a quick fifty bucks by submitting the paper to a website. It attracts the attention of Erina (Tanya Allen) and the National Identity Movement, the thinly-veiled white supremacy group she represents.

Catherine is seduced by the charismatic group and its leader, Inga Kolneder (Lynn Redgrave), who mold the confused young girl into an anonymous writer of hate literature. N.I.M. finds itself dissatisfied with Catherine's perpetual anonymity, and they decide her good looks and infallible ability to attract new members would be put to better use as the group's spokesperson. She's reluctant at first, but with the ceaseless prodding of her lover, the frontman of an Aryan punk band, Catherine relents. The movement isn't all crappy music and burning crosses, as Catherine learns after she inadvertently plays a role in a near-fatal attack on Alan Green. The best efforts of her friend Erina aren't sufficient to convince Catherine to leave the group behind, despite feeling increasingly conflicted with each passing day. As if all of that weren't enough, Catherine's relationship with Ian has a somewhat unpleasant consequence, fulfilling the group's desire for her to become an anti-Zionist baby producing machine.

I found it interesting that White Lies resisted the temptation to blindly divide characters into heroes and villains. The frustration Catherine expresses in the film's early moments is likely to strike a chord with a number of viewers, at least if the sorts of posts on DVD Talk's Other Forum offer any indication. The Nazis don't wear jackboots and twirl their collective moustaches while cobbling together nefarious schemes against other races. There is obviously a considerable amount of underlying nastiness, but several of N.I.M.'s members are realistically painted more as ignorant than merely eeeeevil. At the same time, the anti-racist movement has its violent side as well, and one of its leaders has a tough time putting what's right above personal ambition. Certain elements of the plot are predictable, but White Lies doesn't follow a formula piecemealed together from three decades of afterschool specials. Though Catherine does reject Nazism by the film's conclusion (would it possibly end any other way?), the movement she embraced for even that brief period of time had an indelible effect on her friends and family, and Catherine can't just go through life pretending nothing had happened. Every action has a consequence, and that's reflected here, though somewhat disappointingly also in the overdone form of teenage pregnancy.

White Lies was directed by Kari Skogland, whose credits also include Zebra Lounge and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return. If nothing else, she deserves points for tackling a wide variety of material throughout her career. Sarah Polley is an underappreciated talent who's more than up to the task of carrying a movie with this sort of material. Catherine isn't a mindless drone who errs simply because the plot demands it. Her descent is a beliveable progression of a character whose mistakes and confusion inspire sympathy and disappointment rather than snide "why the hell is she doing that?" remarks from the peanut gallery.

White Lies was originally released on DVD through MTV Home Video over two years ago. That version has since been discontinued, supplanted by this edition from Music Video Distributors. As far as I can tell, these releases are identical in every way. Music Video's DVD carries a list price of $19.95, and as I write this, buy.com currently offers the lowest price of any e-tailer for White Lies at $13.99 shipped.

Video: White Lies is presented in the same full-frame aspect ratio that it was originally seen in upon its debut on Canadian television in March 1998. Its appearance wavers somewhat, though perhaps that's to be expected from an ambitious low-budget TV movie. Crispness and clarity are somewhat inconsistent, appearing rather soft in portions like the auditorium sequence, though the majority of the film is sharp enough. Film grain comes and goes, most jarringly in the extremely grainy shots in the hospital, immediately followed by an exterior scene on a cliff at the 16:15 mark that's as smooth and close to perfect as one could hope for. There is also some infrequent shimmering, such as the venetian blinds as Catherine first enters her home. The clips of the film in the disc's featurette are roughly comparable in quality, seemingly indicating that this is the way White Lies has always looked and likely will for some time to come.

Audio: There's not a whole lot to say about the lifeless stereo surround track, which sounds quite a bit like watching a movie on cable TV. Ambiance and music reinforcement creak every so quietly from the rears, and the only times any activity from that direction managed to grab my attention were applause after a performance by Ian's band and the more choral portions of the film's score. I can't think of much else to say, so I'll quickly mention the presence of Spanish subtitles and move on.

Supplements: The 23 minute "The Telling of White Lies" is the only supplement worth noting. Nearly everyone involved in any capacity with the project gets some screen time in the documentary, be it in the form of interviews or behind the scenes footage. I suppose I'm easily amused, but I thought the story about a crew member who was nearly arrested after having some film of the swastika-riddled props developes was particularly interesting. A scene index for the disc's twelve chapters is provided under the "Special Features" menu, as is a two-paragraph synopsis of the film. Rounding out the supplements are biographies for Sarah Polley, Lynn Redgrave, Tanya Allen, Joseph Kell, Jonathan Scarfe, Albert Schultz, writer Dennis Foon, producer Phil Savath, and director Kari Skogland.

Conclusion: As a film, White Lies is nothing particularly memorable, though it's in a class above the "afterschool special" schmaltz I was expecting. White Lies may be of more interest to parents who want to prompt discussion about the harm of racism to kids in their early-to-mid teens. I wouldn't think too many people outside of that age bracket would be interested in White Lies, especially considering that the more powerful American History X explores many of the same themes and ideas without having to strive to be appropriate for broadcast television.


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