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Film Review: In the Mirror – Raindance Film Festival 2021

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Director: Laila Pakalnina

Snow White is a pretty strange story to begin with, a princess is kidnapped by her stepmother’s henchman and dumped in the woods where she readily becomes the housekeeper / maid to seven very little men. If that wasn’t surreal enough Latvian director Laila Pakalnina’s film In the Mirror, receiving its UK premiere at the Raindance Festal, sets the entire story in a gym-fit world and captures it all from the perspective of a phone camera.

Pakalnina’s movie is entirely about narcissism, something which every character displays as they preen and stare into the camera, snatching focus from others as often as they can while seemingly holding the camera themselves. This often absurdist film is Snow White for the selfie generation but while Pakalnina creates the impression that we are seeing life through a lens, the crisp black and white visuals are rich and layered, giving In the Mirror an added gloss that only enhances the overall effect.

The story is people with dancers and body builders that adds a particular aesthetic to the visuals, and, with limited dialogue, each shot feels carefully constructed as Pakalnina creates perspectives with different things to observe in the foreground, middle and rear of the frame. Over time, the viewer adjusts to this way of filming that is at once in close-up and long shot, underscoring the notion of social media-focused surface-obsessed Instagrammers who are consciously on view and cultivating their image at all times.

And all of that style is really entertaining to a point, but at 80-minutes, it starts to become a little tiresome with no characters to truly sympathise with and a story that becomes increasingly indulgent in its surrealism as Pakalnina explores how far she can push the scenario. There are burpee-obsessed gym-bunnies in the kingdom, lingering shots which we see over the shoulder of the gazer, a group of men working-out in the forest, some lost sailors and a gallery director, all of which are imaginative but a little empty.

In the end, Pakalnina has little comment to offer on the behaviours exhibited through the story, and in a hasty happy ending that fits with the original story, the vacuity of its characters is, in fact, rewarded rather than judged or diminished, so while the wicked stepmother is duly punished, everyone else continues to be as phone obsessed and self-regarding as they ever were.

Snow White has been repurposed for the screen many times but never quite like this, and there is huge value in seeing a film prepared to experiment with form and narrative style to create a particular effect. In the Mirror will probably be an acquired taste and it certainly overstays its welcome but Raindance audiences won’t see anything else quite like it.

In the Mirror is screening at the Raindance Festival on 29 October.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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