If this is the year of Snow White in cinema, one film leads them all. In the past year, we have seen Tarsem Singh’s ”Mirror Mirror”, starring Julia Roberts as the villain, and Rupert Sanders’ ”Snow White and the Huntsman”, with Charlize Theron as the evil queen of the magic mirror. Both are action films, with special effects rather than actors in the leading roles. But these two films have nothing to do with Pablo Berger’s ”Blancanieves”: a fascinating, precious, golden work, an immortal example of fine art and daringly intense poetry, with many stylistic innovations.
First of all, it is a silent feature with superb black-and-white photography from Kiko de la Rica, set in bullfighting southern Spain during the 1920s. Blancanieves is so exceptionally narrated that its few title cards are not even necessary. Full of emotion, fantasy and humor, the film tells the story of a young Snow White (Macarena García in her film debut) who is tormented because of her difficult relationship with her father in the past, and constantly harassed by her stepmother, magnificently played by Maribel Verdú. She decides to break with her history by joining a dwarf bullfighter troupe. A few of the characteristics of the original Grimm tale remain, notably the main character’s marvelous innocence.
Berger’s tone initially seems grotesque, but it is above all funny and tender in introducing viewers to the world of bullfighting at the start of the 20th century. The beautiful cinematography and the music by Alfonso de Vilallonga completes the work: Blancanieves is a wonderful gem of cinema that will endure as a must-see.
Berger has taught at the New York Film Academy for 20 years, in addition to diverse film courses at Cambridge, Princeton, Yale, la Sorbonne and la Fémis. He decided to return to Spain for his first feature film, ”Torremolinos 73” (2003), which won Spanish and international prizes including four Goya nominations and best film at the Toulouse Film Festival. ”Blancanieves” is his second feature and has just been chosen to represent Spain in the running for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The film focuses on a fairytale character, but it takes the audience back into Spanish history by meticulously recreating the clothes, cars and interiors of those years. It is also an homage to cinema as sound and vision, music and sequences, as perceived through an innocent gaze. And it is a love story without words – full of grief and misunderstanding, but still a love story.
According to one writer, the world of ”Blancanieves” can be summed up by Norma Desmond’s statement in ”Sunset Boulevard” (1950): “No dialogue needed, all we needed was faces.” I completely agree with this. The actors in this film don’t need to utter words to express themselves or to touch the audience. ”Blancanieves” has the strong presence of a captivating young woman, an evil stepmother and some charming dwarves, but it is much more than this. Of all the Snow Whites of the last year, this gothic melodrama is finally the best of them all.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2012