“Gorgeous” was my first thought when I viewed the trailer for the new film Blancanieves, the Spanish reworking of The Brothers Grimm tale, Snow White. Written and directed by Pablo Berger, it is a black and white silent film in which the actors delivered their performances so beautifully, I barely acknowledged the title cards. I found it amusing that I was automatically lip-reading because I speak Spanish.
In works of art and films that I love, my one demand is that I have to FEEL and do so strongly. There is no lukewarm or tepid. NO. I’m not a fan of in-between. I must feel deeply and passionately.
Snow White has been retold so many times that knowing the story, I felt not much more could be told or expressed. I was so wrong. From beginning to end, I was lost in this hypnotic version as never before.
I was immediately drawn to it because of the cultural and time era elements. I love silent films, the 1920’s setting and the Spanish culture, which is close to my heart. I loved the passionate Flamenco score punctuating every emotion both so beautifully and heartwrenchingly painful throughout. Not a lot of films stay with me, but this one did without question.
The Artist, 2011’s black and white 1920’s era silent gem, was another favorite of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Blancanieves takes elements of what I already loved about The Artist even further. It is by no means a copy, but an additional and welcome homage to the art of silent film. The cinematography is entrancing, darker and more intense, it consistently keeps pulling you in until the end.
There was no question I needed to see this film, and afterwards I left with such strong emotions. It is at times morbid, dark and twisted with a sprinkling of deviance but it is always beautiful.
The darkness and intensity was always present, but lifted and lowered with seamless timing, never feeling forced.
This version is set and opens in 1920’s Sevilla, Spain where we find Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) and her husband Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) the famous bullfighter. Carmen is pregnant and watching her husband in the ring where he is gored, which sets the story in motion. Moving forward, their daughter Carmencita (Sofía Oria), is now motherless and subsequently raised by her grandmother from birth. Her father re-marries a heartless, vain and sadistic woman who is bent on controlling every aspect of his life to her convenience.
As a little girl Carmencita, has a difficult journey. She does not know her father until several years later when she is taken to live in his house, but he is hidden from her by her evil stepmother who despises Carmencita. This is where she sees the darker side of life, a stark contrast to her life with her loving grandmother, Doña Concha ( Ángela Molina).
This time for Carmencita is riddled with pain and torment, but she is ultimately able to re-connect briefly with the father she knew of, but never knew before. For a moment, their loving relationship blooms and transcends any pain and sadness outside of it. His spirit is renewed and she learns valuable lessons from him which will serve her later. Their brief time together gives her the strength and knowledge she will call upon when she needs it most. I feel the true heart of this story is her relationship with her father Antonio
Several years later “Carmencita” is now a young woman and referred to as Carmen. Due to tragic and horrific circumstances she finds herself alone. Carmen/Blancanieves (Macarena García) is found and befriended by a troupe of dwarves who perform in bullfighting arenas. Her connection to this is immediate and natural, and she comes into her own finding her calling in working with them. All the while, her stepmother Encarna played to evil and over the top perfection by Maribel Verdú, follows her career from afar with malicious intentions.
The dwarves are at times humorous, dark and conflicted, but also deliver touching performances as Carmen’s/Blancanieves caretakers. With them, she finds somewhere she belongs at a time she has no one else.
Ultimately, we reach the conclusion we are familiar with, but it is delivered here in such an atypical beautifully sublime manner. I appreciated all of this film’s visual quirks and nuances which are jewels to be discovered. We are shown the spectrum of the beauty and ugliness of life. We also see that love, hope, determination and inner strength even at our lowest counts for much much more than we may think.
Some may see it as piggybacking on a trend/novelty (black and white, silent film, 1920’s) but this movie is strong all on its own. I just choose not to be that jaded.
Absolutely gorgeous and haunting, the beauty of Blancanieves was not lost on me.
Review by Shirley Rodríguez