BLANCANIEVES (2012, Spain)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Pablo Berger
Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Maribel Verdú, Macarena García
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 95% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A re-telling of the classic Snow White, Blancanieves is a beautiful homage to the black-and-white Golden Age of European silent cinema, set in a romanticized 1920s Seville.

If you are one of the 3 or 4 people in the world who have ever wondered what would happen if Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro collaborated on a black-and-white silent film, your prayers have been answered.  Blancanieves is a beautiful anachronism, a black-and-white silent film created as a tribute to the silent films of nearly 100 years ago that gave birth to the motion picture industry as we know it.  The filmmakers have remixed the classic Snow White fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm into a movie that puts all the recent Disney remakes to shame.  THIS is how you pay tribute to your predecessors.

The updated story takes place in Seville during the 1910s through the 1920s.  Antonio, a famous bullfighter, is gored in the ring and paralyzed.  Traumatized by her husband’s injuries, his pregnant wife goes into premature labor and dies after giving birth to a daughter, Carmencita.  Antonio remarries to a scheming nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdú, whom you may recognize from Y tu mama tambien or Pan’s Labyrinth).  Encarna, who gives gold diggers a bad name, manages to keep Antonio from ever seeing his daughter, who is raised by her grandmother.  But true to Brothers Grimm fashion, Carmencita (and her pet rooster, Pepe) eventually must come to live with her father and her evil stepmother, whose idea of caring for her paralyzed husband is to leave his chair in a sunny spot of the house while she indulges in a little S&M with the chauffeur.  Why didn’t we see THAT in the Disney version?!

If you know the story of Snow White, you know what happens next.  The insane jealousy, the trip into the forest, the attempted murder, her discovery by a group of little men (only six this time, and they’re bullfighter/clowns).  But everything is turned on its head slightly.  For example, she loses her memory, even forgetting her own name.  She remembers the steps to bullfighting, but she doesn’t know why.

We even get a scene with the infamous apple and the “Sleeping Death,” although the resolution to Blancanieves’s predicament is not quite what I was expecting.  It will take you by surprise, too.  I guarantee it.

This was such a charming movie to watch.  It was full of the kind of shots and edits that are typical of silent films of the ‘20s.  I won’t catalog them all here, but their usage really put me into the “vibe” of that bygone era.  I especially liked the liberal use of double-exposure shots to reinforce a state of mind, or to remind the audience of a piece of “dialogue.”  Or, most effectively, when Antonio reminisces about his dead wife.

And the actress who plays the adult Carmencita, aka Blancanieves, is one of the most beautiful actresses I’ve seen in a while.  For the record.  Films are heavily reliant on faces, silent films even more so.  They found the perfect face for this character.  A true beauty.

There were some nice quirks, too, that reminded me of Terry Gilliam more than anything or anyone else.  Among the six dwarves is one named Josefa.  Josefa is either a really ugly woman or a really bad drag queen.  In miniature.  Her name is mentioned, and that’s it.  No explanation given for her appearance.  We move on.

A word of warning: you know those stories you hear about how the Grimm fairy tales have been “cleaned up” or edited over the years either to remove the more gruesome elements or to tack on happy endings for kids?  Yeah.  Keep that in mind.  That’s all I’ll say.

I used to tell people that, if they’ve never seen a silent film before, The Artist (2011) is the place to start.  Having seen Blancanieves, I think I have to update my statement.  The Artist is a great deconstruction of the art of silent films, but it would be even better to start with a great example of the medium itself.  Sure, there’s always Chaplin and Lloyd and Keaton, but for someone who has historically shunned silent films, Blancanieves is an even better entry point.  It’s a little harder to find, but it’s worth the effort.

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