Directed by Albert Lamorisse
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 40 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French, English
MSRP: $ 14.95
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 13, 2008
A child and his horse: it’s been a movie staple for decades both in our country with such classics as National Velvet and The Black Stallion and abroad (think of the classic Italian neorealist masterpiece Shoeshine). Albert Lamorisse’s White Mane joins this illustrious list of fondly remembered cinematic matches of a child with his horse. It’s a bittersweet tale with a decidedly unexpected ending, but for forty minutes, one can enjoy an imaginative, image-heavy and dialog-light excursion into storytelling French-style.
White Mane is a wild horse living in the marsh regions of southern France. The powerful, graceful, and lovely animal is the leader of a pack of wild horses who are constantly being chased down and captured by a band of rather heartless herdsmen. Folco (Alain Emery), a marshland lad who lives with his sister and grandfather and who fishes to keep the little family alive, dreams of having the beautiful White Mane as his own friend and companion. Laughed at by the haughty herdsmen for trying to round up the horse by himself, Folco later has an opportunity to endear himself to the horse, and they inevitably become great pals. But those herdsmen are always nearby, looking for any opportunity to catch White Mane for their own purposes.
With his stunning eye for visuals, director Lamorisse films three really astonishing sequences in this brief movie: Folco’s first attempt to rope White Mane where he’s dragged through the marshes and almost drowned, a fight between White Mane and another horse who vies with him to be leader of the pack, and the final chase scene which covers an immense amount of ground and is shot and cut thrillingly. Truth be told, the director’s script is fairly short on incident, and the characters other than Folco are one dimensional stereotypes. This aside, the film weaves its spell beautifully and stuns one with its ultimate poignant climax.
Alain Emery does a superior job as Folco. Since the film was shot silent, the majority of his performance is in mime, expressing his longing and subsequent love for his friend through a wonderfully expressive face and body language. The horse, of course, was actually played by a succession of different animals, but it’s to the director and film editor’s credit (kudos to editor Georges Alépée) that the performance as presented in the movie is a seamless one.
The film is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio slightly windowboxed to preserve the entire frame of the film. The black and white images are spectacularly sharp and vivid with very impressive blacks and whites that are bright without any blooming. Apart from a couple of thin white scratches and a couple of hairs that appear to have been on the lens during the original photography, the image is without any serious flaws with a seriously impressive grayscale. The white subtitles, what few there are, are easy to read. The film is divided into 10 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack contains light hiss throughout. The film was shot silent with voices and some sound effects added in later, all of which sound tinny and unconvincing. Maurice Le Roux’s guitar score is atmospheric and the best thing about the soundtrack. J. P. Grenier does the French narration of the film though the viewer can turn on an English narration done by actor Peter Strauss if he chooses (I didn‘t listen to the English version). Apart from the rudimentary nature of the sound mix and the slight hiss, the soundtrack does its job but is nothing special.
A widescreen anamorphic theatrical reissue trailer is provided for a double bill of The Red Balloon and White Mane. It runs 1½ minutes.
An insert in the Amray case contains some black and white stills from the movie, a cast list and crew credits, a chapter listing, and a brief set of liner notes on the film by Michael Koresky.
White Mane doesn’t have quite the charm or whimsy of Lamorisse’s other classic The Red Balloon, but the film is still eminently watchable and quite enjoyable. Together with The Red Balloon, these two films could make a sensational double bill for family viewing that comes highly recommended, especially if one isn’t put off by foreign language art films for every member of the family.