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Music Video Distributors presents
White Lies (1997)

"Every time I turn the corner, I'm afraid they'll be there. I don't want to be around when they kick the door in. Now every day is the day of the rope."
- Erina (Tanya Allan)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 30, 2002

Stars: Sarah Polley, Tanya Allan, Jonathan Scarfe
Other Stars: Lynn Redgrave, Albert Schultz, Joseph Kell
Director: Kari Skogland

Manufacturer: PROVAC Ltd., Toronto
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes
Run Time: 01h:32m:07s
Release Date: December 04, 2001
UPC: 778854121997
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's "One World Week" on campus, and you can probably guess what that means: the politically correct are out in full force. Catherine (Sarah Polley), a Canadian teen alienated from her parents to a familiar degree, has a question for the columnist from a local paper speaking at her school: She got turned down for a job flipping burgers because she doesn't speak Cantonese. How come? He pretty much calls her a racist, and she stews about it. She vents in a paper for class, bemoaning the fact that we've forsaken the sacred for the safe, that we've taken Christ out of Christmas and replaced him with Frosty the Snowman. Her unsympathetic teacher promptly gives her an F.

That's the launching point for White Lies, a story of Catherine's descent into the bowels of the Canadian Nazi movement. It's certainly not a tremendously groundbreaking bit of cinema, but it's a compact if predictable little story, told with some artful filmmaking flourishes.

Catherine takes her grievances to a white supremacist chat room, and even posts the paper that earned her a failing grade—blood is in the water, and Catherine is in the crosshairs of N.I.M., a group that advocates for "white rights." They may not identify themselves as racists to Catherine from the jump, but hey, a Nazi by any other name. Catherine is lured in by Erina (Tanya Allen), and in classic cult indoctrination style, Erina asks if Catherine wants to go to a party—it's all cute boys playing foosball and paying compliments to Catherine, the high school loner's dream of an alternate reality.

You'd think that the swastika tattoos would be a tipoff, but if the repellent politics aren't reason enough to stay away from this crowd, their music should be. We're favored with a couple of hate rock tunes, one with a refrain that goes: "Take it back—white power!" It also features this fabulous lyric: "We lost our pride, we lost our place, we lost our tribe, we lost our race." If this is representative of the music that the Aryan Nation has to offer, I think it's fair to say that they haven't quite yet unearthed their skinhead John Lennon.

Catherine unwisely gets romantically involved with Ian, the band's lead singer. (He's a Nazi, but ooh, he's such a cute Nazi.) It's not too tough to guess that this relationship is headed for trouble when one of their pals chimes in about Catherine, "I'm telling you, this kid is ready to be a counter-Zionist baby machine." (It's an especially nice touch by the production designers that during a sex scene, the actors' bodies are artfully draped with flags from the Third Reich, and so instead of flesh, we're treated to the sight of writhing swastikas.) You can probably phone in the story points yourself, but if White Lies isn't unpredictable, it's not bad for its kind. It's hard not to sympathize with Catherine, pinned between the PC Gestapo on the one hand, and the heirs of the actual Gestapo on the other, and it's a tribute to the film that there's a certain complication given to both sides.

And as white power movies go, you've got to give this one credit for having at least some sense of humor. At one point, our friendly neighborhood racists are decorating the university library with some of their hate literature as the soundtrack plays Put A Little Love In Your Heart. (A special thank you to the sound editor for sparing us some more of the Aryan rock at this point.) Director Kari Skogland demonstrates a certain flair, and there are some nice images here; the acting is pretty good, too, and you get the sense that the director and her cast wouldn't say so, but that they don't think much of the predictable material. Sarah Polley does good work in the lead role, but Catherine remains something of a cipher; her attempt to extricate herself from this world is only slightly more convincing than her previous quick run up the Aryan ladder. Especially fun on camera is Lynn Redgrave as the Nazi den mother—she seems to be having a fine old time, with a thick Teutonic accent, fretting over her little white darlings in the big bad mongrel world.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Originally produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the film is full frame and looks pretty decent, given its pedigree as a TV movie. Colors can get a little gooey and the lighting is uneven, but black levels are reasonable enough and debris and other interference are at a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio track tends to be a little tinny, and the dynamics are messy, with some of the music sequences just unreasonably loud and full of buzz.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. story synopsis
Extras Review: The accompanying documentary, The Telling of White Lies (23m:07s), features interviews with many of the cast members, as well as with the director, producer, writer, composer and other members of the production team. The best sequence here is with the makeup artists, merrily applying temporary Nazi tattoos to various cast members. (There's also the painstaking business of making sure the cross-burning choreography is just right. Show business is very glamorous.) Brief bios are provided for the director, producer and screenwriter, along with six of the leading actors; curiously, for a Canadian production, the only subtitles available are not in French, but in Spanish. The inclusion of a vague story synopsis is truly baffling as well—if you've already got the disc in your DVD player, why would you need a quick TV Guide-style rundown on the movie?

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

White Lies is pretty by-the-numbers filmmaking, but as television movies go, this Canadian production has it all over what the networks put on the air south of the border. The forcefulness with which it articulates its inarguable premise, that racism is bad, gets stale long before the movie is over, but there are some nice flourishes that make it stand out from the routine, lackluster fare that pollutes our airwaves.


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