By Don Simpson | March 28, 2013
Director: Pablo Berger
Writer: Pablo Berger
Starring: Macarena García, Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Pere Ponce, Sofía Oria, José María Pou, Inma Cuesta, Ramón Barea, Emilio Gavira, Sergio Dorado
Antonio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a highly regarded Spanish matador whose career comes to a grinding halt after he is mauled by a bull. It is by no means a coincidence that his stunningly beautiful wife (Inma Ciesta) goes into premature labor while the doctors fight to save Antonio’s life. His wife dies during childbirth and Antonio is released from the hospital a quadriplegic. How’s that for a grim beginning to this modern retelling of the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale?
Well, things only grow increasingly grimmer… An evil hospital nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdú), sees Antonio as an easy way to get rich quick. A widowed quadriplegic, Antonio has no way to raise his daughter Carmencita (Sofia Oria) on his own; so, Carmencita is sent away to be raised by her grandmother while Antonio marries Encarna. When Carmencita finally does return home, she is promptly exiled by her wicked stepmother to a prison-like cellar and forbidden to ever see her father again. Living up to her “evil stepmother” stature, Encarna essentially imprisons Antonio as well, relegating him to live a life of solitude in one room of his palatial mansion. As fate would have it, Carmencita eventually discovers her depressed, wheelchair-bound father and quickly develops a mutually enlightening relationship with him. Oh, and Antonio teaches Carmencita the secrets of bullfighting…
Years later, a teenage Carmencita (Macarena García), ends up with amnesia, only to be rescued by a traveling troupe of bullfighting little people. Coincidence, I think not. Bullfighting comes quite naturally to the clueless young woman who is as white as snow; nicknamed Blancanieves, she soon becomes key component of their roadshow. What is more unique than bullfighting little people? Correct, a female matador.
With silent films being such a rarity in the 21st century, it is damn near impossible to discuss Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves without mentioning another silent film that won Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score at the 2012 Academy Awards. Like a neglected step-child to the inferior The Artist, Spain’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category, Blancanieves did not even get selected for one of the final five nomination slots.
In the history of silent films, The Artist would probably be considered mediocre at best. I like to think of it as a modern narrative drama that simply replaces its dialogue with intertitles. Blancanieves, however, stands out as the most beautiful and reverent silent film that I have seen this side of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). Blancanieves is a visual spectacle that combines narrative elements of surrealism with the classic visual techniques of montage and superimposition. Cognizant that he is working in a purely visual medium, Berger focuses primarily on setting the mood and tone of Blancanieves, establishing an otherworldly — and undeniably unique — sense of place. The use of intertitles is kept to a bare minimum, relying quite heavily upon the actors’ facial expressions and the stunning cinematography of Kiko de la Rica to convey the basic narrative. A revisionist take on the Snow White fairy tale, Berger dashes the story with a healthy dose of feminism, first and foremost by establishing Carmencita’s success in a traditionally masculine career. So, not only is Blancanieves an escapist fantasy of epic proportions, it is also an incredibly complex and intelligent approach to a very classic story in the fairest of all cinematic styles. So, forget about the The Artist… Who is the fairest of them all? Blancanieves, that’s who.