19 May 2024

Blancanieves Blu-Ry Review


Somewhat unfairly lumbered alongside The Artist as a Spanish retort to Michel Hazanavicius’ neo-silent award-guzzler, Blancanieves is proof that merely appearing in black and white does not a mimic make. This year alone sees a host of new features, from Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, through Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England to the upcoming Alexander Payne feature Nebraska that revel in the majesty of monochrome to tell a host of tales, ranging wildly in both style and story. Director Pablo Berger’s feature utilises the format to bring us an inventive and incredibly stylish take on the Brothers Grimm classic Snow White – the title being the literal Spanish translation and the name given to our heroine by her accompanying dwarves.

Turning the familiar fairytale on its head Berger relocates the tale of fair-skinned beauty to the home of a more sun-kissed disposition, setting the film in Spain at the heart of its cultural tapestry– the bullfighting ring. Born the daughter of the renowned matador Antonio Villalta, Carmencita is forced to live with her grandmother after her mother dies during childbirth and the subsequent heartache forces her paralyzed father (gorged in the ring at the hands of a ferocious bull) to reject the newborn. Before long her famed father remarries the conniving money-grabbing nurse who manipulatively aided his recovery. Their lavish lifestyle is light-years away from the humble yet happy existence she carves out in the rural countryside until her doting grandmother suffers a sudden and fatal heart attack, forcing the young Carmencita to become the unwanted house guest at her father’s vast new marital home.

Ably pulling off a tonal shift, Berger transports our young lead from warm, jovial, sun-drenched villas and plunges her into a Dickensian, chore-laden life under long shadows and dark surroundings. It’s one of the many impressive visual touches pulled off by Berger and his cinematographer who manage to seamlessly sit handheld close-ups comfortably alongside long range, held shots of sweeping vista’s, rolling Iberian countryside and quaint villas. Taking their lead from the greats of cinematic history the pair create a nuanced and knowing visual display, even recollecting the matchstick men communities of Lowry in the communal procession to the dominating bullfighting coliseums.

Eventually Carmencita inadvertedly finds herself on the strictly out-of-bounds second floor of the palatial pad where she chances upon her father for the very first time – his wheelchair bound slumped figure contrasting greatly to the powerful image in the grand foyer painting. The two bond instantly and secretly, away from the prying eyes of Encarna and before long Carmencita learns the ways of the matador under the expert tutelage of her esteemed father.

Years pass and Encarna’s disdain for her adoptive child grows, hatching a plan to rid her of this burden for good, a plan that, once thwarted, leads Carmencita to her six (not seven) minutely proportioned saviours, travelling Toledo’s who entertain the crowds at ramshackle bullfighting outposts battling against the less fearsome, but equally sized, calves.

Berger directs with a trained eye on the classic tale and another firmly on the stylistic touches of film-makers down the years. The dreaded apple is presented with knowing significance, brandished like a gun while elsewhere shadows and score create suspense akin to Hitchcock. Not that everything on show trawls through the past. The returning theme of fame trickles through the film with each of the leads having their own, ultimately doomed, brush with the limelight suggesting Berger has as much to say on this modern obsession as he does it’s genesis. One particular public mourning resembles a disturbing scene at Madame Tussards and there’s a nod too to the prized cover-shoot of Hello-like magazines thrown in for good measure while the freak show ending signals a bleak parallel with what we view as entertainment and those who peddle it.

So no, not merely a reactionary piece jumping aboard the Artist bandwagon (although there are similarities – for Uggie the dog, see Pepe the chicken) but Blancanieves has more up its sleeve to be written off so easily. A silent triumph in its own right.



Matthew Walsh

Rating: 12
DVD/BD Release Date:5th August 2013 (UK)
Director: Pablo Berger
Cast:Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina
Buy Blancanieves: Blancanieves – Collector’s Edition [DVD]

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