Bavaria Film International

Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Interweaving strands of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Tamar van den Dop's "Blind" is a stirringly photographed, bleak midwinter's tale about a troubled, blind young man who falls deeply in love with an unattractive albino older woman who is hired to read for him.

It admittedly sounds like a pretty tall tale at that, but the Dutch actress makes a compelling feature directorial debut here, incorporating haunting images, an atmospheric soundscape and urgent performances to curious effect.

An international co-production between The Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria, the film could be a decent art house performer with the right domestic distributor.

Ruben (Joren Seldeslachts) is a 19th century wild boy whose violent outburst haves scared away a succession of women who have been enlisted by his ailing mother (Katelijne Verbeke) to read books to him.

But his tantrums do little to dissuade recent arrival Marie (Halina Relijn) from quitting her much-needed job.

Though Ruben is unable to see her startling-looking, pale, scarred face framed by long, witchy-white hair, there's something about her that penetrates his protective shell.

In time, that something turns into a physical relationship, and as Ruben tenderly runs his hand across the self-conscious Marie's cheek, he imagines those scars to be "frost flowers" like those that form on icy window panes.

Their intense, odd, relationship takes a fated turn when Ruben agrees to a new surgical procedure that could result in his regaining his vision.

Not willing to find out if true love is truly blind, Marie flees before Ruben recovers from the surgery, but the two ultimately cross paths one final, poignant time.

Adroitly blending the Andersen imagery with a darker, Brothers Grimm mood, writer-director van den Dop, along with her production designer Hubert Pouille, cinematographer Gregor Meerman and inspired choice of a composer Tom Holkenborg (responsible for that 2002 hit remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation") spin a vivid fable that casts a haunting spell long after the film ends.