Last year, when ‘Blancanieves’ was released (yes, this was released in 2012 over in Spain and was submitted, but rejected, to the Academy for the Foreign Language Film category), there was a lot of murmuring over the internet about the fact that this was a silent film. Ignorant ‘wannabe’ cinephiles were balking at it, calling it a gimmick and accusing it of capitalizing on the sudden rush of fame (and Academy embrace) of 2011’s ‘The Artist’. This was such a sad happening because we simply don’t have enough creativity in film these days, and a rebirth of the silent film genre would hopefully spark some newfound imagination in filmmakers. While it has become almost cool to ‘poo-poo’ all over ‘The Artist’ as being shamelessly gimmicky and Academy pandering, I still love the film. No, it doesn’t make my top ten of 2011, but I still really enjoyed it and while it has some pretty lazy screenwriting, it has loads of charm and flash and made me smile ear to ear with each viewing.
Dismissing ‘Blancanieves’ simply because you are fearing or expecting ‘The Artist’ redux is a shame, because this film is FAR different in tone and construction and manages to not just be a very good film, it is a BETTER film for many reasons.
‘Blancanieves’ attempts to put yet another twist on the ‘Snow White’ story. Yes, 2012 was stupid with ‘Snow White’ remakes, and while the two US releases (‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’) may have soured you to the idea of a modern cinematic take on the fable, I encourage you to forget your quibbles and just give Pablo Berger’s inspired take a try. Yes, it is in black and white. Yes, it is silent. Yes, it is foreign.
The film takes place in Seville, Spain in the 1920’s, ‘Blancanieves’ tells the story of a matador who suffers a terrible accident in the arena. His beautiful wife (who is heavy with child) goes into labor and the two are slowly dying in the hospital simultaneously. The matador makes it through, but his lovely wife dies. This bodes well for the conniving nurse, Encarna, who seeks the rich matador’s hand in marriage. The child did survive though, and she lived with relatives until another accident left her homeless and thus at the mercy of her father’s new wife, Encarna. Little did young Carmen know, but her father was being held prisoner by the ruthless Encarna who was wasting his fortune away for her own selfish gain and keeping poor Carmen with the animals. When Carmen finds her father, her life starts to shine (ever so slightly) while she bonds with the man she lost forever. Encarna is loathsome though, and when she finds out about their reunion, she makes drastic steps to keep her dominating power in hand.
What happens next leaves poor Carmen an orphan and an amnesiac and in the company, and care, of bullfighting dwarves.
What Pablo Berger does here is beautifully flesh out the story we all know and love and give it an identity all its own. Yes, this is inspired by the classic story, but it is 100% ‘Blancanieves’, and that is what I love so much about this film. This film knows what it is and what it wants to say, and it does so with expert precision. I also find that the criticism about the whole ‘silence is a gimmick’ aspect to be a misguided argument, since Berger’s decision to tell this story as a silent film really wasn’t for mere style because the style here is far more reigned in than it was in ‘The Artist’. This isn’t a homage film. At the end of the day it basically boils down to a decision on Berger’s part.
“Hey, I’ll make this film silent”; and that was that.
With each passing frame, the film consumes with a darkness that is laced with a special charm that can only be found in films of this nature. It is inviting and comforting despite the film’s harsh tones, and maybe even because of them. There is something almost honest about the way that Berger tells this story. This is the story that Disney would NEVER tell and yet it is the one that they should have. The depth of despair in the film’s finale (utter perfection) is only heightened by Berger’s ability to spawn a sliver of hope. It feels completely balanced and accurate, something that can rarely be said about film these days.
I really loved this, and the more I think about it the more magical and clever the film feels. I give this a solid A, and I'm just waiting for time to confirm my initial desire to give it that '+'. It's a gorgeous to look at (the lighting is astonishing, while still attaining a feeling of vintage appeal) and those costumes are so intricate. Speaking of those costumes, I could see this being an Oscar player this year in that very category (which is rather weak, to be honest). The guilds will most certainly bite, so I'm wondering if Oscar will too (since they aren't shy about embracing foreign films in this category). Outside of that though, this doesn't have a prayer, despite deserving attention for Verdu's inspired turn as the evil Encarna, as well as for the rich technicals.