Wednesday, October 23, 2013

FI: Blancanieves

Spain/France, 2012
Written and directed by Pablo Berger

There are a million ways that Blancanieves could have gone wrong. Given the current trend of "reimagined" fairy tale movies and TV shows—almost none of which are actually any good—the thought of yet another Snow White remake might set your teeth a-gnashing. Similarly, doing a silent movie in the post–The Artist era might smell of a cash-in or shameless copycatting (the director, for his part, insists the idea was already under development by the time The Artist took Cannes by storm). But somehow, against all odds, Blancanieves works and works very well. The film lies closer to Guy Maddin than Michael Hazanavicius on the retro-silent spectrum, in terms of its style and the movies it wants to evoke (though, unlike Maddin's work, it's not entirely fixated on the tropes of Freudian psychology). Instead, it uses the techniques and imagery of old-school European silent fantasies and dramas to lend psychological nuance and atmosphere to the myth of Snow White, all while fully integrating it into the cultural heritage of Spain.

Here, our Snow White (translated directly as Blancanieves) is a girl named Carmen, played by Sofía Oria as a child and Macarena García as a young adult. Her father (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a famous bull fighter, is paralyzed in an in-ring accident, and upon witnessing the accident, her mother (Inma Cuesta) dies after going into premature labor. A family friend named Encarna (Pan's Labyrinth's Maribel Verdú) becomes the wicked stepmother, and contrives to keep Blancanieves and her depressed father apart, enjoying the lavish lifestyle her husband's old winnings provide while treating Carmen like a servant. There are other parallels, with The Huntsman replaced by a chauffeur (Pere Ponce) and the seven dwarves now a troupe of bullfighting little people. The plot roughly follows that of the myth, with a few changes that I don't want to spoil here.

What's unspoilable, however, is the film's kinetic energy. Despite all of the tragedy and neglect on screen, writer/director Pablo Berger always finds ways to include joy, triumph, dance, and movement (with a healthy dose of flamenco music). This fluid, lyrical style matches well with the indomitable spirit of the film's protagonist. Kiko de la Rica's cinematography is clean, high contrast, and true to the spirit—if not always the technological capabilities—of classic silent cinema. If some of the characterization and acting is broad, well, that's to be expected in any fairy tale, let alone one attempting to recreate the much broader style of silent film acting. The good news is that nothing ever pushes the film even close to the edge of campiness. Blancanieves remains firmly rooted in the darkness of the old Grimm tale, and is a satisfying, moving film as a result.

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