White Oleander (2002)
Directed By: Peter Kosminsky
"White Oleander" is a story about a young girl, Astrid, who's mother, Ingrid, is arrested and convicted for the murder of her boyfriend. Because Astrid is only twelve when this happens, she is put into foster homes. During the film she is placed with three different familes; Starr, an ex-stripper and coke addict who has found Jesus, Claire, a shy insecure actress who's husband is never around, and Rena, a Russian woman who runs a cheap clothing business with the girls she watches. Astrid's experiences at these homes change her; some for the good and some for the bad. But most importantly, the affect the relationship with Ingrid, who tries to control her daughters thoughts and actions even from jail. It is Astrid's ultimate confrontation with Ingrid that pushes Astrid to show her mother that she can't control her anymore.
In terms of Mise en Scene, this film is truly extraordinary. I've seen it several times, but this time, watching for setting, characters, and lighting really made it a different experience. The setting is key in this film and changes several times, due to the fact that Astrid is moving from home to home. In the beginning, when she's still with her mother, the setting is their home with art projects (her mother is an artist) and pictures of family. It's a happy environment. This disappears with Ingrid's arrest. Starr's setting is out in the desert, which creates a sense of abandonment and loneliness. Her home is a mix of religious symbols and sparkly clothes showing just who her character is and what effect she will have on Astrid. Claire's home is practically all white and very classy. She's a pure spirit who wants to find order in her messed up life. Rina, in contrast, lives by selling on street corners and fairs. Their home is small and contains old cheap antiques. Each setting is a way to convey the main care-giver's personality without having to say it.
The actors in this film are another form of Mise en Scene. Alison Lohman's protrayl of Astrid is perfect. She was reatively new to movies when she did this, and that fresh face is perfect for portraying the emotions of Astrid who has to constantly change throughout the film. Michelle Pfeiffier gives the best performance as Ingrid. She is beautiful and manipulative. Evil and pure. It is these two that drive the main feel of the film and bring a sense of identity.
Lighting is the hardest aspect of film for me to understand. However there were scenes in this film that stood out. The scene at Starr's home when Astrid is doing her homework and Ray, Starr's boyfriend, comes home early. He and Astrid have been becoming closer since she's been there, and some might argue too close. This scene is where it becomes apparent that these two feel something for each other. It's dark outside and the lights are dim, setting a flirtatous mood. Shadows form across each actors face when they are closer together. It's a darkness of characters. Astrid, who was once pure, is becoming corrupted.
With all three aspects of Mise en Scene, "White Oleander" became an entirely different movie for me. I understood why I felt so strongly for these characters and why, as a viewer, I made the judgements about who they were based on the scenery around them and how they dressed.