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New Release Review - Blancanieves

The Brothers Grimm's 'Snow White' gets a Spanish silent re-imagining.

Directed by: Pablo Berger
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Macarena García , Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Sofia Oria


Antonio Villalta (Cacho) is Spain's most acclaimed bullfighter until the day he is gored and forced to retire. When his wife dies in childbirth, he rejects their newborn child, Carmen, who is sent to live with her grandmother. Antonio marries his nurse, Encarna (Verdu), who takes in Carmen following her grandmother's death. She treats the child terribly, forcing her to work hard all day and sleep in a dank room at night. Carmen is forbidden by Encarna to go to the first floor of the mansion but one day she chases after her pet chicken and discovers her father, confined to a chair in an upstairs room. He reconnects with his abandoned daughter, teaching her about bullfighting, but when Encarna learns of this she puts some dark plans in motion.
While 'The Artist' homaged the silent era but never really felt like a product of that time, Berger's 'Blancanieves' is much more authentic. 'The Artist's claims to being a "silent" were somewhat false, given the amount of dialogue displayed on title cards and the use of sound effects. Here, title cards are kept to a bare minimum as Berger is so adept at visual storytelling he simply doesn't need them. The only sound present is courtesy of Alfonso de Vilallonga's fantastic flamenco-infused score.
The key to a successful silent film is to keep the plot as simple as possible. By reworking a fable known to anyone raised as a child in the western world, Berger is allowed forego narrative details and focus on creating atmosphere, which his film has in spades. Verdu as the wicked step-mother Encarna is one of recent cinema's greatest villains, going so far as to feed young Carmen her pet chicken in one of the film's darker moments.
In today's politically correct age of molly-coddling, it's easy to forget just how dark children's fairy tales are, especially those of the Grimm brothers. Like the early epics of Disney, 'Blancanieves' combines this darkness with a level of charm absent from most contemporary children's films, and though it features an attempted rape and some animal cruelty, this is essentially a children's film. It certainly took this reviewer back to a childhood spent on a living room floor falling in love with the black and white horror movies shown on TV every afternoon back in the eighties.
At my screening, there were audible groans when critics realized they were in for a silent film. Sadly, in this word-obsessed age where eye contact has been replaced by text messages, 'Blancanieves' will struggle to find an audience. It's a film that requires you to keep your eyes on the screen at all times, anathema to the idiot-phone generation. Their loss is the cineastes' gain.
8/10


Eric Hillis