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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
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.
Silent, black and white, expressionist, virtuoso in his classically vintage mise en scene, "Blancanieves" is a triumph of real cinema and invention, folk culture and Iberian poetry, a post-modern masterpiece in which the aesthetic of silent cinema with its quotes and its expressive forms, the single power of pictures and musical score it's not only an end, as it has been for the contemporary and more exalted "The Artist" (in which retro style was justified by the homage to old Hollywood), but a mean, a perfect mean, to tell a story: the usual one, by Grimm's brothers tiredly taken to screens so many times in so different ways, but here completely twisted, tipped over, in a Gothic, Spanish and extravagant version where Snow White and seven dwarfs are toreros, the set is Seville between '10s and '20s, and the usual Disney fable hearts and flowers go to hell in benefit of a dark tonality, a black humor and a grotesque taste which unchains an unstoppable series of stylistic, comical, poetic inventions, unpredictable as sensational. Under the aegis of a deep patriotic identity, "Blancanieves" has the rhythm of a corrida, the passion of a flamenco, the blood of the arena, the twists of circus and the weight of jealousy, of love duel, which is heart and root of Spanish romanticism. It's a modern "Carmen" with Oedipus complex, tuned with "guitara" and castanets, and painted with the oldest cinema aesthetic, close-ups, gags, depth of field, lights and darks of great silent cinema, here in its maximal expression, without any self-satisfaction at all. It's not a divertissement, and not a simple homage, not a pastiche: it's like a film should be, simple, dry, moving, as cinema in its beginning. Cinephile mannerism of Pablo Berger doesn't make lose the film in a style exercise, but helps to tell a black fairy tale, out of time, revolutionary and anarchic, which couldn't be represented some way else. A bond of immediate emotion and narrative synthesis, which discovers in the arena a theater of all life sensation range: laugh, crying, show, anguish, childhood lightness and horrid adults' cruelty, the weight of past and memories, ghosts and returns, a little antique world in which good and evil, hate and love, jealousy and solidarity, clash and overturn in front of an enraptured, manipulated audience who asks for more, who wants to be thrilled, who gets touched, who has fun, and in the end asks grace for the bull. And, on the very last scene, cries for masterpiece!
Blancanieve (Snow White) is in every sense one of the best films of
2012. Coming directly in the footsteps of Oscar winner The Artist, this
is another film that proves that Silent Film is not a derogatory term
but rather leaves us to bring more not less of ourselves to what is a
Where Blacanieve triumphs is in its storytelling, its acting, and yes, its melodrama, which here works and makes us feel like we are really watching a Spanish film from the birth of Spanish cinema - the casting of the extras, and the attention to detail just adds to this sensation - and it really is a good watch from beginning to end.
I used to watch films all the time, now I find most are so generic, uninspiring, and just plain dull, that I have almost lost the desire - but then you see a film like this and it restores your faith - a simply excellent film about love, passion, jealousy, and sadness.
Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror were not the only two
Snow White-inspired films of last year. Spanish cinema goers were
treated to their very own version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that
was directed by Pablo Berger who could have been inspired by the
success of the French-American silent film, The Artist, as his version
of the tale is also a silent one.
Shot in glorious black-and-white (as was The Artist), the film looks and feels like an actual film from the silent era. The simple style of Blancanieves hearkens back to the silent era of film and Berger has created a fanciful homage to those wonderful films of several yesteryears ago that have inspired countless filmmakers ever since.
Berger's unique vision of Snow White takes place in southern Spain in the 1920s and features actress Maribel Verdu (Pan's Labyrinth, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as this version's wicked stepmother. Verdu's Encarna loves her husband's fame and fortune (he is a paralyzed bullfighter whom she met in the hospital as his nurse) but loathes him and his daughter, Carmen. As the story goes, the young Carmen/Snow White (Macarena Garcia) flees the evil clutches of her mother and finds herself helped out along the way by a band of little people who travel the countryside and perform as a novelty act. Carmen finds a talent as a novelty, female bullfighter herself ... and her newfound fame attracts the attention and wrath of Encarna. And, well ... we know the story.
Berger has ingeniously and believable captured this tale in this setting ... and it all works. The over-the-top theatrics of the stars (over-emoting for lack of sound) is spot-on and there are no weak-links in this production. The sets and costumes are lavish. The blacks and whites are sumptuous and beautiful. By Berger choosing to incorporate some of the darker elements of a classic Grimm tale, he has made this version the most successful of last year's three Snow White re-tellings.
This is the fairest one of them all.
Although The Artist, the first Best Picture winner I've agreed with in
a long time, took the mainstream by storm of its silent film
renaissance style, Blancanieves is a similar revivial, if not as
self-referential, and is on par with The Artist. Silent cinema in the
modern age feels like it offers a brand new way of expressive cinema
and Blancanieves is oozing with expression. With textured black and
white shots and energetic editing, it's a rush of raw inspiration,
making full use of the frame. With such a timeless story, there's a
risk of it being a complete retread, but Blancanieves tells it in such
a refreshing and unpredictable way in which I was constantly looking
for the famous plot points and then pleasantly surprised me when it's
revealed which character is playing what role. It's a film with such a
warmth for the characters and builds their relationships in a great
archetypal way. With its great pace, it hits story beats efficiently
and I was never bored and always caught off guard with its
reinventions, with the bullfighting angle implemented seamlessly. The
highlight is the fantastic score, which also rivals The Artist, with
its variety of styles, the best parts being when it has flamenco
influences. Blancanieves is a very entertaining and tragic rendition of
a great story that avoids sentimentality all the way. Although it winds
down a little in the last third where it's run out of steam too much to
develop the seven dwarfs fairly, its highs are still strong. One of the
best the year has to offer and rivals Disney's own Snow White.
A silent movie, filmed in black & white, which moves the familiar Snow
White fairytale to a bullfighter arena in Seville and spices it with
some morbid and melodramatic themes. I admit, it sounds weird. But in
fact, it's wonderful. Blancanieves is a great cinematographic
accomplishment. Anyone who loves film, should go and see it.
Many silent movies are still a joy to watch, even though they are made almost a hundred years ago. That's because they put so much more emphasis on the visual aspect of the movie. It's about what you see on the screen, not about what the actors say.
Director Pablo Berger has understood this perfectly. Blancanieves is a visual feast from beginning to end. The scenes are filmed in high-contrast black & white, often with deep focus. Everything looks extremely stylish, from the wardrobes to the interiors. Sometimes the images could have come right out of a fashion magazine.
Moreover, the actors know that they have to act differently and use much more expression. Maribel Verdu is a joy to watch as Blancanieves's evil stepmother. Her facial expressions are worth more than a hundred lines of dialogue. Watch for the chicken-eating scene!
In silent movies, the soundtrack is of course extremely important. Blancanieves doesn't disappoint. From the no holds barred, full-scale orchestral pieces during the most melodramatic scenes, to traditional Spanish flamenco music, it all accompanies the images on screen perfectly. Sometimes the soundtrack turns into source music, for example when we see the orchestra playing during the bullfight, or when Blancanieves puts on a record.
it's hard to review this film without mentioning 'The Artist', the Oscar-winning silent movie from last year. Inevitably, Blancanieves stands in the shadow of this successful film. That's bad luck for director Berger, who has started this project long before anyone had even heard of The Artist. Perhaps, if The Artist wouldn't have had as much success as it did, Blancanieves would have attracted more attention. The Artist was a multiple Oscar-winner, Blancanieves didn't even get nominated, although it was the Spanish selection for the foreign language category. That does seem out of proportion, because both films are really great. Blancanieves is old-fashioned film making at its very best.
Blanca Nieves, or Snow White, is a variation on the old fable, with bullfighting being a major thematic difference. A great matador is seen praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, as he awaits is battle with el toro. He enters to a worshippig crowd, which includes his pregnant wife cheering him on. Of course, things go horribly wrong and he ends up in a wheelchair and his better half has a difficult childbirth. A daughter is born and she winds up at an estate with a wicked stepmother, as in the original tale. This is all in black and white and it is also a silent film. I was reluctant to watch it, but once I got used to the placards used for dialogue, I was carried along by the story. Carmen, the little girl, grows up and circumstances bring her to a group of; you guessed it, seven bullfighters. They are little people, in keeping tradition with Grimm's book. I won't give away the ending, but I was thoroughly entertained by Blanca Nieves. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting excellent throughout. Be open minded, as far as watching a silent movie is concerned, and you will not be disappointed.
Snow White with flamenco and bulls.
The outdoor, hilltop venue undoubtedly added to the allure. The screen was hung on the castle wall on Barcelona's Montjuic and the orchestra was live. The flamenco songs were performed by a singer with a soaring voice standing under the screen. But this was just extras and Blancanieve is well worth watching without it. The music is transporting and the stunning B&W photography alone makes it worth while.
Wonderful entertainment and deeply satisfying.
Just go see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just returned from a screening of this remarkable film hosted by Dr. Richard Brown of NYU's Movies 101. With the spate of take offs on the Snow White theme in recent years, I suspected that this was just one in a long line of suitors to the throne. Not expecting much, I came as much for the novelty of watching a modern day silent film as anything else, but walked out as if in a dream. Of all the hundreds of memorable movies I have admired and enjoyed, I will stand on this review: The is the single most visually arresting, moving, lyrical wonders I have ever seen on film. Without cliché or hyperbole, this film will become a modern day classic. Before the screening began, Dr. Brown gave a brief introduction to "Blanca Nieves" and a short history of the silent film era, with special emphasis on how these early films were always presented with full, live orchestras, and how these film scores dramatically enhanced the entire film viewing experience. With this in mind, the producers wisely decided to have a full orchestral soundtrack created for this cinematic tour de force, adding a degree of emotional impact to a film already so beautifully crafted as to elicit emotions I've rarely experienced in any film, silent or contemporary. This captivating gem, shot entirely in glorious black and white, demonstrates a level of cinematic perfection rarely seen in films nowadays, every frame a picture, every picture a masterpiece. Do yourself a favorsit back, put your preconceived notions on hold, and simply allow this magical piece of filmmaking sweep you away in it's spell.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last June, Rupert Sanders paid homage to the Brothers Grimm with stock
fantasy, Snow White and the Huntsman. Three months later, writer-
director Pablo Berger released Blancanieves, also a fantasy live-action
based on the same German fairy tale.
But three crucial elements separate Berger's version: a tribute to the 1920s, this Spanish production is told in the style of a black-and-white silent film. As a whimsical, intelligent tale of horror, it is also the right blend of romantic and surrealist mystery. Lastly; inspired by documentary photos of bullfighting dwarfs in "Hidden Spain", this screenplay (unlike most adaptations) unfolds against the principal scenery of Spanish bullfights, and also contains references to Alice in Wonderland.
As a result of all three elements, Berger's improvised re-telling is an unpredictable and spell-binding concoction.
1920s in the bustling city of Andalusia Antonio, a celebrated matador at the peak of his career suffers serious injuries during a match. His heavily pregnant wife goes into distress after witnessing the harrowing event, and dies after giving birth. Physically and emotionally crippled, Antonio rejects their newborn girl Carmenito (snow white) and leaves her under the care of family friend Doña. Father and child move on to separate lives with Antonio suffering in reclusive exile after marrying Encarna (Maribel Verdú) matriarchal villain of the vain, viscous type. Carmen on the other hand, nurtured and loved by Doña blossoms into a talented and spirited child. But tragedy strikes and Doña dies. Young Carmen, along with pet rooster Pepe, is sent to live in a mansion with Antonio and Encarna.
Sadly, Antonio is wheelchair bound and having fallen into deep depression is clueless about Carmen's plight. Pending reunion is thus shrouded in melancholia and with Encarna's presence, a hint of wicked danger. In keeping with the Grimm's parable of love, envy and wrath this film also amplifies the terrifying risks of falling for deception.
Bullfighting is a passionate, violent sport and both flavors work to engineer narrative shift from that of a heartwarming tale for kids, to one of chilling cautionary etched in surrealist tragedy. Years later, even after Carmen (Sofía Oria) escapes into a life of bullfighting with the carefree, circus troupe of dwarfs; pervasive dread of her looming death continues to linger. Most crucially, Berger is also capable of infusing lighter moments while sustaining the heavier, eerier older version of Little Snow White. For example, in the Grimm's original, Encarna is a cannibal and this is replaced by a scene at the dinner table with young Carmen. Here Maribel Verdúm (instantly recognizable from Y Tu Mamá También & Pan's Labyrinth) turns in her role as a devlish stepmother with ferocious, sphinxlike power; all the while exuding wisps of opéra comique required of the twist.
Pretty glad I decided against giving this one a miss.
Everything about Blancanieves, from its vivid imagery to metaphorical theatrics, superb performances to haunting musical chords, is dramatically captured and thoroughly inventive. The film does an amazing job at transporting modern audiences back in time and deep inside a cryptic, disturbing universe. And seriously the poor rooster.
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