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A band of bullfighting dwarfs save the life of a young woman with amnesia. They end up taking her under their wing when they find out that she has seemingly natural skills as a bullfighter, upon which they can capitalize not only for their act but for her own personal gain. As she does not know her name or background, the dwarfs coin her Blancanieves, after the famed fairy tale. What they are all unaware of is that she is really Carmen, the daughter of the once great matador, Antonio Villalta. On the day Carmen was born, her father suffered a career ending accident, and her mother died in childbirth. Her father quickly remarried his nurse, the evil Encarna. Although raised by her grandmother during her early years, Carmen, following the death of her grandmother, went to live with Encarna while an adolescent, Encarna who treated her as a slave. Carmen eventually found her disabled father, who was hidden away and treated poorly by Encarna. In the meantime, Encarna was cavorting with the... Written by
I watched this film today at the Toronto International Film Festival. After many years of attending the festival, few if any films have made such an impact on me. Visually stunning, every scene shot in crisp black and white shouted out that colour is a mere distraction, a passing fad.
In a silent film, apart from the occasional inter-title, the visuals must tell the story, and in this case the filmmaker borrowed from the tropes of 1920s cinematic narrative, but added a more modern appreciation of human appetites and moralities. Much effort was made to reproduce the look and tone of classic silent film down to the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the current technologies used in production added an extra snap, crackle, and pop.
The story is Snow White, but set in the Seville of the 1920s: a girl, the daughter of a famous bullfighter, is raised by an evil stepmother. Instead of a mirror on the wall (though she has one of those, too) the stepmother relies on a fashion magazine to say who's the fairest of them all. A plot to kill the girl - now grown up - fails when she is rescued by a band of travelling bullfighting dwarfs who care for her until she's ready to fulfill her own destiny in the ring.
As befitting a fairy tale, the story is simple and direct, though there are shades of grey here and there in this black and white world of good and evil. But simple as it is, like the best children's stories, this one resonates at a deep level. And speaking of children, it can be debated whether any Grimm fairy tale is actually suitable for children. I would certainly not take a young child to see this one.
Have I mentioned the music? Anchoring the story to the setting, glorious Flamenco appears at key moments making the pulse quicken in time to the castanets.
Such a gorgeous film. I must see it again, if my heart can take it.
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