Following on from Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, there seems to be a trend in cinema at present to bring the treasured fairytale to the big screen. Thankfully – and unlike previous efforts – Pablo Berger’s unique adaptation Blancanieves offers a completely different twist on the original story, presenting his tale in the form of a black and white silent movie, as we delve into 1920’s Spain.
Following notorious bullfighter Antonio Villalta’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) life-threatening accident , his wife is rushed into labour for the birth of their first child. When she tragically passes away during childbirth, and with Antonio confined to a lifetime in a wheelchair, the surviving daughter Carmencita (Sofía Oria) is raised by her grandmother. However she is eventually taken in by her father and her belligerent and unwelcoming step-mother Encarna (Maribel Verdú). Treated with hostility, Carmencita (played as an adult by Macarena Garcia) finally manages to escape, where she meets a collective of bullfighting dwarves, who help her regain some confidence as she attempts to emulate her father and become a success in the very same field.
Though beautifully crafted, Blancanieves suffers from being in the shadow of The Artist, owing so much to the Michel Hazanavicius production. Despite the countless moments of magic in Berger’s sophomore feature, there is always that niggling feeling at the back of your mind where you can’t help but feel this is surviving off the aforementioned title’s success somewhat, as you question whether this film would ever have been made had it not been for the Oscar winning film. That said, there is certainly enough within this picture that makes it an inspiring and heart-rendering cinematic experience and one that will certainly stick with you.
While The Artist paid homage to silent Hollywood movies of the 1920’s, Blancanieves does much of the same thing yet stays far more faithful to its original roots, as a picture that is undeniably and flamboyantly Spanish, coming with that same pride and celebration of their culture that is evident in the work of both Pedro Almodóvar and Luis Buñuel. Rich in Spanish heritage, bullfighting is of course a prevalent theme, while the flamenco dancing and music adds to a film that truly shows off the nation for all of its inherent beauty – enhanced by the picturesque Seville setting.
Also in a similar vein to filmmakers such as Almodóvar and Buñuel, there are various little quirks to this title, as a film that makes you laugh on various occasions. It’s just little things, such as the fact one of the dwarves is a transvestite, or the comedic elements to the freak show sequence towards the finale, which is brilliantly judged. There is also an elegance to this film, where even bullfighting is depicted romantically, made to seem like a dance, an eloquent and gracious act which goes against the brutal aspect to it completely.
Where Berger excels greatest, however, is within his storytelling ability, as the narrative is well constructed, particularly given we have no dialogue to help us along. We are so reliant on the visual elements and the director ensures this story is told powerfully through such beautiful imagery. The music is of course equally as important in a silent movie, and it’s emotive and expressive, complimenting the story succinctly. However at points the gap between one piece of music ending and another beginning doesn’t feel very natural, like a CD has accidentally jumped a track.
Blancanieves looks incredible up on the screen, as a film that really deservers to be seen in such a capacity. It’s so well shot that you can’t quite believe that everything is actually in colour in real life. The way the black and white imagery plays against each other is alluring, while the characters also have such animated and characteristic faces which is essential, proved in that the second you first see Encarna you know instantaneously that she has a nasty plan up her sleeve, and all she had done by that point was smile. However there isn’t a face quite as absorbing as that of Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin, but it’s safe to say we have an animal sidekick to rival dear old Uggie – so keep your eyes peeled for Pepe the rooster.