Film Reviews

Blancanieves Pablo Berger

Rating - 7/10

Blancanieves will immediately be compared to the Academy Award-winning The Artist (2011) as an homage to early twentieth century silent cinema in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but it should instead be distinguished by its milieu, movements, and music more than any offhand associations to the success and trend of recent revival.  The film also recalls the literary and theatrical realms of the Grimm fairy tale, Snow White, strengthening this leap by immediately plunging its audience into that familiar spot in front of the stage, commencing with the sounds of a tuning orchestra and matador-cape red curtains lifting to reveal stationary shots of a 1920s Seville, Spain.  It's the sort of slideshow that imitates the prelude to Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979); the director's love for locale is sincerely conveyed.  While Blancanieves twists the lore in dramatically intriguing ways with Expressionist cinematography and the historically significant Andalusian backdrop of bullfighting, the film does have a tendency to feel like it's coasting as a series of expositions, as several characters are simply relegated to their black-and-white karmic alignments of the source material.  The legendary bullfighter Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) may open the show, championed before a vast crowd in the arena, but the titular heroine of the adaptation is Carmencita (Sofía Oria as a young girl and Macarena García as a teen), his distraught but willful daughter.  Fortunately, the entire lavish production is anchored with an energetic, engaging, and emotive score from Alfonso de Vilallonga that primarily unites melodramatic orchestration with flamenco guitar.

The manner in which the film dynamically sways between life and death may initially intimidate or disorient some viewers, primarily because many of the catastrophic incidents feel like they're falling through a psychological sieve; likely to reduce running time, much of the film's first half briskly transitions from one estate and one mood to the next.  Carmencita's flamenco dancing mother Carmen (Inma Cuesta) dies giving birth, just as her father realizes he's been rendered a paraplegic by a raging bull.  The child is therefore reared by her lively grandmother (Ángela Molina) for several years before finally shipping off to the laughably wicked stepmother of lore, Encarna (Maribel Verdú).  Perhaps Blancanieves is attempting to mimic the off-putting feeling that Carmencita herself experiences as a young girl who then becomes a teenager in the film's latter sections (eloquently transitioned through some clever editing).   After escaping a near-deathly encounter with one of her stepmother's servant-henchmen in the darkly deep woods, Carmencita is awakened in an amnesiac state and resuscitated by a dwarf who leads her to join his troop of five others (defying the seven of the source story) as part of their traveling bullfighting act.  Initially, Carmencita merely watches but soon demonstrates her natural inherited talents as a matador.  Through this nostalgic transitioning, the film achieves something faintly Felliniesque- its silence and tone often a link to the tragic neorealist masterpiece La Strada (1954).

However, for obvious reasons, Blancanieves favors melodramatic flourishes over gritty realism, summoning redundant images through superimposition and montage.  Some sequences are more enriching and affective than others, utilizing the reaches of montage theory (that originated in the silent era), while others dilute the establishing emotional draw.  In a notable scene, Carmencita is haunted by former pet rooster Pepe in her mind's eye; the camera cuts to her point of view gazing at the cooked body of a hen on a dinner plate, and she is horrified to find that the bobbing head of Pepe has replaced her supposed meal.  It's a somewhat cynical gesture that suggests the filmmakers' persistence to continually re-engage the audience.  Other instances include rapid-fire recollections of Carmencita's father, Antonio, towards the climax that is simply a summary of scenes that are presented in the film some fifty minutes prior.  This device is used to craft a stronger sentimental tie rather than devoting screen time to character development for the film's sizable cast.  In the abundance of visual embellishments, the music instead carries the journey from revelry to catharsis.  Carmencita's illustrious introduction with her grandmother is accompanied by solo acoustic guitar; a celebratory scene later is scored with a polka, as one of the dwarves jives heartily with an accordion that would have functioned as diagetic music in any sound film.  As the spellbinding, bittersweet coda fades, the film's impression convincingly continues.  Blancanieves may not quite be a revelation, but it's highly entertaining reminder of the cinema's power to enhance and re-envision.  Midway, director Pablo Berger chooses to integrate the Russian proverb, "Longing for the past is like chasing after the wind," which seems misplaced as per the film's message: in moving towards the past, he's able to recapture its graces.