Review: Blancanieves / Cert: 12 / Director: Pablo Berger / Screenplay: Pablo Berger / Starring: Maribel Verdu, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Macarena Garcia / Release Date: August 5th
There's a lot to said for silent films. Seductive cinematography. Iconic stars. Tales of behind-the-scenes excess and debauchery. And, best of all, they stopped making them over 80 years ago, so they're easy to avoid if they're not your cup of tea. Except that's no longer true, it seems. Because after the surprise critical and commercial success of Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, we now have Pablo Berger's Blancanieves. Somewhere a Media Studies lecturer is no doubt already busily preparing a module on the Early 21st Century Silent Film Revival.
Blancanieves also slots into the recent “twisted fairy tale” craze, in that it's a version of Snow White, one that transposes the story to the world of Spanish bullfighting in the 1920s. We begin with famous bullfighter Antonio and his pregnant wife Carmen. When he gets mauled in the ring, the shock sends her into labour and she dies giving birth to a little girl, also called Carmen. Initially young Carmen is brought up by her grandmother, but when she drops dead of a heart attack after a particularly vigorous bout of flamenco dancing (a warning to us all, that), there's nowhere for the girl to go but to the country estate ruled over by her new evil stepmother, Encarna. This wicked lady knocks off Antonio and tries to kill Carmen too, but she escapes and, in a state of amnesia, takes refuge with some dwarves who work as a novelty bullfighting act. She has a go at joining in and, being her father's daughter, turns out to be an instant hit.
It's apparent from every frame that this film was a labour of love for all concerned. It boasts exquisite production design which makes use of a dark Spanish Gothic look mixed with splashes of Art Deco, the orchestral score is witty and bubbly, the black-and-white visuals have a fashion plate gloss, and all of the performances are excellent, particularly that of Maribel Verdu, who has a whale of a time strutting about in feathers, jewels and flapper dresses in the role of the sadistic stepmum (and keep your eyes peeled for a scene-stealing comedy rooster who deserves an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor Who Can Also Be Served For Sunday Lunch). The dwarves, too, are nicely done, taking their cue as they do from the Disney version – there's a grumpy one, a dopey one and a tranny one (wait... what?). Unfortunately, where the silent film gimmick made sense in The Artist (a silent film about a star of silent films), here it feels affected, especially when combined with an annoying pillar boxed 4:3 aspect ratio. As a result, for all it's skill, this a movie that's never truly involving. It gets an olé for effort and daring, though.
Extras: Making of Blancanieves / Trailer