BLANCANIEVES. Starring Maribel Verdu, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Sofia Oria, Macarena Garcia, and Inma Cuesta. Directed by Pablo Berger. Rated M (Mature themes). 100 min.
This is a silent Spanish, black-and-white fantasy movie, that makes imaginative use of silence - like "The Artist" (2011) and "Tabu"(2012), did before it - to convey its force. The film is based on the classic German fantasy story compiled by the Brothers' Grimm in 1812. Subtitles occasionally appear in the film to convey what is being said, but always in the style of the silent movies of the past.
The setting for the movie is Seville and the bull-fighting areas of Andalusia in Spain during the 1920s. The film won Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography Awards at the 2012 Cinema Writers Circle Awards in Spain. Snow White in the film is a beautiful Spanish bull-fighter, and the title of the movie is Spanish for her name. There are many versions of the Brothers' Grimm tale that have appeared on the cinema screen, the most recent of them being "Snow White and the Huntsman" in 2012. Each of them presents a variation of the original myth.
Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is a well-known matador who is paralysed tragically in the bull-ring, following a freak accident with a bull by the name of Lucifer, while his pregnant, flamenco-dancing wife, Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta), watches in the adoring crowd. Traumatized, she goes into premature labor and dies in child- birth. Antonio is left to look after his beautiful young daughter, Carmencita (Sofia Oria). Stupidly, he marries a cruel and heartless woman, Encarna (Maribel Verdu), who nursed him in hospital, and who now treats him appallingly. She has imprisoned Carmencita, whom she rejects entirely. Antonio sits a lonely figure in Encarna's house, not being allowed to have contact with anyone, but Carmencita comes to her father secretly from the floors below his room, and he teaches her the art of bull-fighting. With time, Encarna grows increasingly frustrated and irritated with her husband, and she kills him by hurling him down the stairs.
Carmencita's enforced imprisonment, is not enough for Encarna, and she orders her chauffeur to dispatch her step-daughter, now a grown woman (Macarena Garcia). Left for dead, she is rescued by a band of dwarves who are traveling bull-fighters. Practicing the skills her father taught her, she quickly becomes a famous bull-fighter, the first female matador Spain has had. As the original tale leads us to expect, there is a final confrontation (at a bull fight in Seville) between Carmencita in the ring and Encarna in the crowd, but the film ends more ambiguously than most versions of the myth. Blancanieves remains affected by the spell that her evil, ego-obsessed step-mother has cast upon her with a poisoned apple, but the dwarves ensure that Encarna gets her just deserves.
This is a melodramatic version of Grimm's tale that focuses on the dark side of the fantasy, and the film has some macabre touches. The movie highlights non-verbal gestures and uses its dramatic intensity to enhance the meaning of what is intended to stay unheard. The rhythm of the imagery substitutes for the distraction of words, and there is a musical sound-track that reinforces and embellishes the film's images.
Pablo Berger's direction of the movie gives the tale an eerie, stark look, but not without a considerable dose of Spanish humour. One of the seven dwarves is a woman pretending to be a man (or a man pretending to be a woman), and Encarna is not so much worried by Carmen's beauty as desperately wanting to be the main source of attention in the columns of the local press. Carmencita now provides more of a story for the press than she does.
Virtually everyone knows the story of Snow White, but certainly not this version. Berger offers us an original interpretation of the tale that dramatically recasts the myth. The movie has some beautifully constructed images, makes excellent use of wide-angle camera shots, and pays affectionate tribute to the art of European silent film-making, a medium that, with the popularity of "The Artist" and "Tabu", is burgeoning in appeal.
This is a clever, sophisticated film that makes highly vivid use of black-and-white photography. The film is at times sensual in tone, as well as creative, and is rhythmically compelling. It is directed with style by Pablo Berger, who brings a distinctively Spanish touch to a very famous tale.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for film and Broadcasting.
Out October 24th 2013.