Starring Maribel Verdú and Macarena García. In Spanish with English intertitles. Rated PG.
The Spanish title Blancanieves means Snow White, but this Iberian take on the Brothers Grimm owes plenty to Charles Dickens, surrealism, and the magic of movie storytelling before the imposition of sound.
If anything, Kiko de la Rica’s black-and-white cinematography—usually high-contrast but sometimes deeply grey-toned—in this very Spanish silent film makes it even more dazzling than in The Artist. And writer-director Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73) is not burdened by having to be funny all the time. Berger and company do camp out at times, but the movie is as dark, and occasionally as kinky, as you’ll find in anything about an amnesiac female bullfighter in the Great Gatsby era.
The tale centres on young Carmen (initially played by Sofía Oria), who loses her flamenco-dancing mother (Inma Cuesta) the same day her famous toreador father (Daniel Giménez Cacho) gets gored in the ring. She is raised from birth by her doting grandmother (Ángela Molina), but quick as you can say wicked stepmother, she ends up with daddy’s horrid new wife (Maribel Verdú), who gives her all the worst chores.
If you think Snow White is starting to blend in with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and maybe some Pan’s Labyrinth, you’re not losing your mind. Berger mixes multiple fairy tales freely with beautifully crafted images from classic expressionist cinema, as well as wipes, cuts, and framing devices so antique they’re new again. Some sequences are really visual amplification of the incredible Spanish music on the soundtrack.
The tale does eventually get back to Snow White, after Carmen (now played by Macarena García) loses her memory and hooks up with seven dwarves and gets renamed. Okay, it’s five bullfighting dwarves and a drag queen, but let’s not get picky here. Blancanieves is such a nonstop delight for the senses, you’ll wonder why other movies bother to talk.