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By Daniel Lammin
23rd October 2013

For some reason, the beloved fairy tale of Snow White has been getting more cinematic interest of late than usual, most notably with ‘Snow White And The Huntsman’ (2012), a lacklustre attempt to turn the quaint story into an action epic. Completely out of nowhere, however, comes easily the most successful adaptation since the great Disney film in 1937. With his new film ‘Blancanieves’, Spanish writer and director Pablo Berger has returned to the magic of the tale, and realised the great magic of cinema in the process.

Our Snow White is Carmen (Macarena Garcia), a young woman in 1920s Spain, the daughter of a famous bullfighter crippled during a fight. After the death of her grandmother, Carmen is taken in by her father and her wicked stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Once Carmen comes of age and her father dies, Encarna tries to have her killed, but of course, Carmen escapes and ends up with a group of dwarf bullfighters, where she realises her inherited skills in the ring and starts to follow her destiny.

The story is beautifully simple and told with all the charm of a fable. Berger takes all the literal magic out of the story but leaves the narrative magic intact. The time and setting is refreshingly different and very appropriate for his retelling, allowing the story and characters to indulge in both the culture of Spain and the 1920s. Carmen, her father, the dwarves and her extended family represent the passionate, driven blood of Spain, while the slightly sadistic and greedy Encarna represents everything greedy about the emerging modern world. The clash of these two ways of life is thrilling, and adds great depth to the film.


What really pumps up the charm, however, is the manner in which Berger tells the story. ‘Blancanieves’ is, in fact, a silent film. There is not a word of dialogue spoken, relying on visual storytelling, as well as occasional title cards to give important moments of text dialogue or exposition. This could seem a bit "been here, done that’ after ‘The Artist’ (2011), but this is an arguably better use of the style. While ‘The Artist’ placed the token recreation of the tropes of silent cinema ahead of its narrative, ‘Blancanieves’ uses the method to the benefit of the story. There’s no attempt to make the film seem dated or from another era. In its execution, it is very much a modern silent film. Kiko de la Rica’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, some of the best black and white photography we’ve seen in a very long time, and is brought vividly to life with Fernando Franco’s stunning editing. In particular, the sequence in the final act where Carmen comes to grips with her destiny is a mighty feat of artistic editing, and though the film can occasionally take its time, the rhythm of it prevents it from ever feeling laborious. And bringing it all together is the terrific and eclectic music from Alfosno de Vilallonga, which combines the style of silent cinema scores with a thumping and rousing Spanish flavour. As both a piece of storytelling and a feat of cinematic magic, ‘Blancanieves’ is an absolute delight.

It’s a real triumph for these actors that they can give such wonderful performances without the aide of dialogue, but without resorting to cheap tricks of melodrama and excess.

Thankfully, the performances are just as noteworthy. Macarena Garcia is wonderful as the grown-up and independent Carmen, her face lighting up the screen every moment she appears. The same can be said for Sofia Oria, in the role of the young Carmen, who demonstrates tremendous talent for such a young actor. Especially without spoken dialogue, a lot rests on Carmen as a protagonist, and both Garcia and Oria ensure she remains a moving and memorable character. Maribel Verdú, who was so powerful in Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006), is the complete antithesis here as Encarna, a wonderfully wicked and tremendously fun villain. Rather than simply go for over-the-top, Verdú plays on Encarna’s indulgences, a disgruntled nurse who takes an opportunity to woo the crippled and widowed matador, remove his daughter and take over his estate. She’s a real delight in this film. Also terrific is Daniel Gimenez Cacho as Carmen’s father, Antonio Villalta, a broken man who finds solace in his young daughter and gives her the lessons that will eventually bring her to success. It’s a real triumph for these actors that they can give such wonderful performances without the aide of dialogue, but without resorting to cheap tricks of melodrama and excess.

‘Blancanieves’ is an absolute delight of a film, a simple fairytale that revels in the art of storytelling, both through narrative and cinema. It has exactly the right balance of humour, danger, intrigue and sadness, and builds towards a thrilling final act and a moving coda. It’s another example of the brilliant cinema that comes out of Spain, and a clear demonstration of the talent behind Pablo Berger and his team. This kind of film thinks it comes along more often than it does, and usually ends up being a half-baked disappointment. ‘Blancanieves’, however, is the real deal. Take a bite of this apple, and you won’t regret it.

RELEASE DATE: 24/10/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 44m
CAST: Maribel Verdú
Daniel Giménez Cacho
Ángela Molina
DIRECTOR: Pablo Berger
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