Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Movie Review: Blancanieves

Directed by: Pablo Berger.
Written by: Pablo Berger.
Starring: Maribel Verdú (Encarna), Daniel Giménez Cacho (Antonio Villalta), Ángela Molina (Doña Concha), Pere Ponce (Genaro Bilbao), Macarena García (Carmen), Sofía Oria (Carmencita), Josep Maria Pou (Don Carlos), Inma Cuesta (Carmen de Triana), Ramón Barea (Don Martín), Emilio Gavira (Jesusín), Sergio Dorado (Rafita).

The Spanish film Blancanieves is no less than the third different take on the fairy tale Snow White to hit screens in less than a year. We had Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror which was basically a straight ahead, comedic version of the story, and Rupert Sander’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which turned the story into a special effects laden action movie. Just about the only thing the three movies have in common other than the source material is that none of them want the Snow White character to be simply a passive heroine who waits for Prince Charming, yet have no problem keeping the evil stepmother as a braying harpy on the other side. But I guess if you’re making no white, you need the stepmother to be a bitch, no?

This version of Snow White is less fanciful than the others. It is set in 1920s Spain, and instead of a King, Snow White’s (here named Carmen) father is a matador. He is gored by a bull, sending his wife into pre-mature labor, where she dies, but the baby is fine. Enter Encarna (Maribel Verdu) as a nurse, caring for the famed matador, who sinks her claws into him and is soon married. He is now paralyzed and depressed – and barely notices his daughter, or how she is mistreated by his new wife. Encarna is busy living the highlife – including a rather kinky sex life with the huntsman character – and essentially turns Carmen into a slave. Later, when she has blossomed in a gorgeous young woman (now played by Macarena Garcia, looking oddly like Katy Perry), Encarna, of course, tries to have her killed. Instead, Carmen simply loses her memory, and ends up falling into with a travelling group of dwarf matadors (only six, not seven) – and becomes a hit.

The movie, like recent Oscar winner The Artist, is an homage to silent film – black and white, with only a score as its sound, and title cards in replace of dialogue. Also like The Artist, Blancaieves is a technical marvel, recreating the films of the silent era wonderfully, and having a marvelous score to keep it afloat. The movie is less self-conscious than The Artist – after all, this isn’t about silent film as that one was – but also somewhat less entertaining and enchanting. As well done as the movie undeniably is – and how great it is to see beautiful black and white photography – I couldn’t help but wonder as the movie played why it needed to be silent in the first place. With The Artist it made some sort of thematic sense. Like the best movie homages – like Todd Haynes Far From Heaven (making the Douglas Sirk film Sirk never got to make) – The Artist was more than simple pastiche. As marvelously well done as Blancanieves is, pastiche is all it really is.

That isn’t to say Blancaieves is a bad film – far from it. It is still a gorgeous film to look at (and listen to) from beginning to end. And while Garcia as Carmen makes a lovely, if rather bland heroine, Maridel Verdu rips into her role as the stepmother from hell for all it’s worth. Subtlety was not really something that silent film actors trafficked in, and Verdu goes full bore into the role. The film also offers some interesting twists on the Snow White tale itself – it doesn’t really even include Prince Charming, but offers something far creepier instead.

I had a good time watching Blancanieves. Yes, I have reservations about the film – and don’t think it’s quite as clever or magical as the movie thinks it is – but it’s still refreshing to see a silent film done well these days. Of the three Snow White films released in the last year, it is clearly the best of the lot – the only one I will probably watch again in the future.

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