Stars: Erin Breen, Deneen Melody, Daniel Kuhlman, Tom Lodewyck and Anthony Fleming III
Not as great as Crestfallen but far better than As Night Falls, Rose White isn't merely a movie Deneen Melody acts in but also one that she created, passing it to director Daniel Kuhlman to turn into a script. She conjured up an interesting idea, one which mixes fairy tale and reality in a more believable way than the recent slew of TV shows and films would have deemed possible. Initially, it's stylish but not particularly original, as Melody narrates the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red from the inevitable 'Once upon a time...' It tells of two happy sisters, Rosalyn with rose red lips and Lilly with hair as white as snow. Only as it reaches a crucial point do we realise where this version is leading us: Lilly is crazy as a loon. These sisters scrape out a life in a rough neighbourhood, as Rosalyn sells her body on the street and Lilly dreams her dreams, dancing in a forest with wild and exotic creatures throwing petals at her feet rather than in the middle of the street in front of working girls and a cop car.
The contrast between these worlds couldn't be more palpable and one of the best aspects of the film is how easily Lilly finds her way from one to the other. All it takes is a single step and the grim reality turns into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Melody is good here, a denizen of two different worlds but far more at home in fantasy than the reality to which she rarely, if ever, fully returns. She also provides the narration, which unfolds throughout in simple fairy tale language, however dark, gritty or visceral the events that accompany it in visuals. She might explain how the kind ways instilled into her by her mother lead her to open their cottage door to let in a bear in need, but we see that it's really a small time drug dealer escaping a beatdown from the new kingpin taking over the streets. Whichever story we follow, the simple yarn of good and evil in a forest or the complexity of a tough life on the mean streets, it unfolds the same and there's no escape from the end, because every fairy tale has one.
For a story that immerses itself in subjects as unpalatable as sex, drugs, violence, murder and child abuse, Rose White has a strong beauty to it that can't be ignored. Because the guiding narration is so omnipresent, we might be surprised at the end to realise that very little takes place in the fantasy world in Lilly's head; the aptly named Melody transports us with her haunting words. She's better as the addled waif than as the innocent fairy girl, though either way her dirt is inconsistent. If Melody is good, Erin Breen is better still as Rosalyn. She's hot and wholesome as a fairy tale creature; fiercely severe as a a hooker coated in the muck of her trade, with chopsticks stuck in a tight bun when she's on the street; or quietly everyday as a jaded girl out of costume. Everyone gets to play in both worlds but she's the most notable in each of them. Melody is never far from our eyes and she's rarely away from our ears, but it's Breen who owns this film. The supporting cast don't stand a chance.
Rose White is a memorable film, though it would have been better served by a few more moments of happiness to keep the contrast alive between Lilly's escapist world and the deluge of brutality that is all around it like a stormy sea taking on a lighthouse. I'd have liked a little more clarity at the end, as the powerful finalé gives way for a brief moment where minds meet but we're not sure where. While Melody created the film and Breen owns it, it's Daniel Kuhlman who racked up the credits on it. His is the name on the screenplay, on the director's chair and in the cast, as the main supporting character, the bear. He's better behind the camera than in front of it, as he can't compete with Melody, let alone Breen, on the acting front, but his script is sure and his direction keeps it moving. While it's too much about the girls to really hold any balance, its toughest obstacle is its length: at just over half an hour, it's a long short, a full third of a festival short film selection. I hope that didn't hold it back.