JDIFF 2013 Review – Blancanieves (Snow White)

Blancanieves is a black and white, silent reimagining of the Snow White fairy tale, where Snow White is the daughter of a bullfighter and must struggle to find herself and pay homage to her father, while escaping the cruelty of her evil stepmother.

Thank god for The Artist. If we did not have Michel Hazanavicius’ love letter to Hollywood cinema, then we probably would not have Paolo Berger’s romantic, dark and twisted version of Snow White that pays homage to early horror films and silent melodrama.

In the past year, there have been two reimagining’s of the Snow White story – from Tarsem and Rupert Sanders – but each of them managed to fall flat, as they tried to squeeze the story into shapes that didn’t suit it. Not so here. The decision to make the film silent and black and white works incredibly well for the story. Gone is the technicolour explosion of Mirror Mirror, and it is replaced with the darkness and tragedy of the original story. As well as this, simplifying the story with minimal dialogue cards allows the emotion of the scenes to spill over to the audience.

Macarena Garcia shines as they teenage Carmen/Blancanieves, and she embodies the kindness of Snow White from the storybooks. Sofia Oria does equally as well, and ome of the most touching moments come as the young Carmencita secretly forms a bond with her father. As they play and talk, the scenes are warm and lively, something which belies the controlled and sterile environment created by the cruel Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Speaking of Maribel Verdu, she is a wonder; she embraces the cruelty and coldness of the wicked stepmother entirely, and her presence overshadows the home where Carmencita spends her childhood, and the film as a whole. There is a lot of Norma Desmond going on with the character, but this is to her credit. Verdu is deliciously wicked as the dominatrix stepmother and, while there is no doubt that this is a campy performance, it only serves to underline the melodrama and oppression of the house where Carmencita lives.

The story takes plenty of twists from the Brothers Grimm tale, but the bones of the story are still there. Once her wicked stepmother tries to have her killed, Carmencita develops amnesia and falls in with a troupe of bullfighting dwarves who name her Blancanieves. The secondary villain and the love interest develop from this merry band and, as Blancanieves remembers herself and finally fulfils the dreams of her father, the wicked stepmother pounces with her poisoned apple. This ain’t no Disney story though, and there was never going to be a happy ending.

Since the film is silent, a lot rides on the actors facial expressions – which are wonderfully melodramatic, but never over done – musical scoring and the visual. The music is inspired by the land of the film’s setting, and strangely flamenco music over treacherous plots works incredibly well. There are some wonderful visual moments, a standout being a close up of an apple that turns into a skull by way of explanation that it has been poisoned.

Director Pablo Berger had fun making this film, and it shows. Blancanieves is inventive, ambitious and broad and, while the film takes a while to get where it is going, the performances pick up the slack for the pacing of the film. Kiko de la Rica’s black and white cinematography is both austere and lush, and through the focus on the female face adds an old world feeling to a new twist of a classic tale.

Blancanieves is a funny, tragic and beautiful piece of filmmaking, which pays homage to European melodramatic and horror films of the silent era. There are a couple of lulls throughout the film, but the performances, cinematography and visual cues are so strong that the journey is enjoyable, despite the delays. Verdu shines as the campy villainess of the piece, and Macarena Garcia is magnetic as the title character.

Rating: 4/5

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