Well, here’s a novel idea, in the world of fairy-tale rehashes: Set “Snow White” in Spain. In the 1920s. And make it black-and-white. And silent. And have bullfighting. (I guess ya gotta have bullfighting, if you’re going to be in Spain in the ‘20s.)
It sure beats Tolkien-izing it.
In Blancanieves, we have the story of a great bullfighter who is nearly done in when an opportunistic paparazzo flashes a picture at just the wrong moment. The resultant trauma causes his wife, a beautiful singer, to prematurely into labor whereupon she dies giving birth to Carmen, the titular Blancanieves.
The distraught and crippled bullfighter is set upon by a greedy nurse, who marries him and keeps him a prisoner, away from his daughter, while she spends his money and has kinky dominatrix sex with the huntsman (only shown for laughs, a la Mel Brooks High Anxiety), in this case a chauffeur/aide/major domo.
And so it goes.
All done silent (not just no dialog, but no foleying) in the high melodramatic fashion of ’20s silent films. Except for film quality and camera movement, it’s very much of that era (cf. The Artist).
If you’ve read many of my reviews, you know I love this kind of stuff, and I really enjoyed this film. It manages to press the melodrama without veering into camp, sincere but not overly serious, original but not gratuitously or compulsively “different”, and touching on the Snow White themes without feeling like a rehash.
The last is probably the thing: Instead of using a well known fairy tale to launch into a remake of Lord of the Rings, it takes the broader story of greed, jealousy and love (with plenty of callbacks, even to the Disney cartoon) and gives us something both familiar and different.
Credit goes to (relatively) new director Pablo Berger, though he could not have done it without a deliciously over-the-top performance from Maribel Verdu (Pan’s Labyrinth) who is pure evil.
The actresses playing all the little Carmens (at different ages) are quite good and Daniel Gimenez Cacho (Come Out And Play) brings a winning warmth as the grieving father.
It’s not for everyone. The whole silent, black-and-white melodrama aside, one might have trouble with the ending. The Boy liked the ending, The Flower found it sad. For a movie based on a fairy tale, it’s a very un-fairytale ending.
But it is Romantic, as is the whole film.