Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Pere Ponce, Macarena García, Sofía Oria, Josep Maria Pou, Inma Cuesta, Ramón Barea, Emilio Gavira, Sergio Dorado
PG-13 for some violent content and sexuality.
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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm together researched, collected and published more than 200 folk tales including popular stories Cinderella, The Frog Prince and Snow White. Filmmakers have long been drawn to these quaint tales told to children to elicit better behavior. Snow White is one of the most consistently re-told stories, most memorably by Walt Disney as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. In 2012, three films that took new spins on the classic story emerged into the marketplace, with the most inventive coming from across the Atlantic Ocean.
Blancanieves takes the familiar tropes of the story and blends them into the saga of the young daughter of a bullfighter (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who has paralyzed from an incident in the ring. Her mother dies in childbirth and a money-hungry nurse (Maribel Verdu) becomes Carmen’s (played as a teenager by Macarena Garcia) step-mother, her vanity becoming ever more oppressive as the story presses on. Adding richness to the fascinating re-telling, director Pablo Berger opts to shoot the film in black-and-white and as a silent, dialogue replaced by intertitles. The result is a gorgeously rendered fable speaking against vanity, greed and selfishness.
The key to success for any Snow White story is the wickedness of the step-mother. While the original Disney villainess lacks rivals, Verdu does the best job I’ve seen coming close to that iconic evilness. Her performance radiats maliciousness, tossing hateful glances at Carmen while carefully plotting to undermine her happiness. Playing in a silent film today hass many challenge, the carefully nurtured artform having largely been lost since itbecame passé in the 1920’s. Verdu, however makes the case that the talent hasn’t been forgotten, just suppressed by years of dialogue-heavy cinema.
Even when adaptations have found ways around the basic elemetns of the story, most Snow White tales go to great lengths to look and feel similar. As outlandish and eye-popping as Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror was, it stuck closely to the Renaissance feel that has often punctuated the story. The same holds true for Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman, which went for a more militaristic approach. Blancanieves is set specifically in the 1920s and takes part in a detail-rich version of Seville. The costumes are as dazzling as anything in Huntsman, though they lack the pizazz of Mirror, Mirror.
Like Mirror, Mirror, Blancanieves employs real “dwarves,” one of the most fascinating elements of the picture. Instead of seven, there are six owing to the inability of the miniature bullfighters to count. Four of them are visually distinctive, but given no character detail. The two we get to know best are both compelling. Emilio Gavira plays Jesusin, a jealous dwarf who schemes to get Snow White out of the group, which has otherwise accepted her. Sergio Dorado is the other playing Rafita, a man who is portrayed as falling in love with Snow White and might prove an adequate suitor would that the film approached that aspect of life. A sequel exploring this relationship might be interesting.
This marks Berger’s second feature-length film after his directorial debut in 2003 with Torremolinos 73, which was modestly well received as it wound its way through the festival circuit over two years, finally finding release in 2005 in the United States. Being a relatively inexperienced director doesn’t mute the impact of the film. Unlike French director Michel Hazanavicius, Spaniard Berger doesn’t require an avid fan of the silent period to appreciate his work. Blancanieves is inventive and progressive enough, with a dollop of sensuality, that it stands independently. In many ways, it’s better than the more rigid reliance on form of Hazanvicius’ Oscar-winning work.
Being one of the few silent films made in the last quarter century, it’s a bit unfair to compare Blancanieves to other films that are set in environments completely different than its own. However, both The Artist and Blancanieves are set around the same period in world history and employ a storytelling medium that was in wide use at that time. The stories take place almost in different universes, but ultimately Blancanieves is the more involving and accomplished piece.
September 12, 2013