An Ambitious Fairy Tale

Pablo Berger, 2012

Blancanieves is a very Spanish take on Snow White, the classic fairy tale by the Grimm brothers.

After his flamenco singer wife — Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) — dies in childbirth, matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménes Cacho) practically abandons his newborn daughter Carmencita to live with Encarna (Maribel Verdú), an opportunistic nurse.

Carmencita (Sofía Oria) is raised by her compassionate grandmother (Angela Molina). Longing for a mother she never met, Carmencita develops a keen interest in flamenco, her mother's career. Her grandmother dies, so Carmencita is sent to her stepmother's mansion, wherein her father is now a paraplegic prisoner.

Having grown up in the mansion, Carmencita is now Carmen (Macarena Garcia). She is emotionally reunited with her father. Just like in the fairy tale, the stepmother sends the heroine far away from her father. After surviving an attempted murder, the amnesiac Carmen is practically adopted by a bunch of traveling bullfighters a.k.a. the seven dwarfs, giving her the name: Blancanieves. The heroine eventually becomes a bullfighter just liker her father.

This adaptation's romantic element is played out between Carmen/Blancanieves and the handsome Rafita (Sergio Dorado), one of the seven dwarfs. This tweaked romance is one of the film's heartwarming moments. But for some frustrating reason, Berger did not invest on this love story.

Along with 2011's The Artist, Blancanieves is cinema's latest glimpse at the bygone silent era. What makes Berger's film quite different is the fact that it is Oscar-worthy without being Oscar-hungry. (The thing is, I don't really give a f*ck about Oscar lately.) Although intentionally melodramatic, Blancanieves doesn't wallow too much on theatrics and aesthetics. The film is already aware of its beauty, that's why it chose to rely more on modest simplicity.

Maribel Verdú's performance is one of the film's assets. Best known as the Spanish drifter in Y Tu Mamá También, Miss Verdú is wickedly awesome as the antagonistic stepmother. This is her show.

The makeup makes two of the film's actresses look alike: Miss Cuesta and Miss Verdú. Oh well. I think this has more to do with the film being shot in black and white. Anyway, all them silent film stars basically look alike back then.

The film's seemingly intended goal is to give the fairy tale a gritty tone, which Berger never achieved. Instead, what Berger accomplished is balanced melodrama. Snow White: A Tale of Darkness is the adaptation that did a good job in turning the fairy tale into a nightmare that it originally is.

Blancanieves started out strong, but somewhere along the middle and towards the end it began to weaken its audience grip. Its screenplay is decent, most of the performers are good, but the film lacks some sort of staying power. Blancanieves is one of those good-looking films that fail in showing more of its inner beauty. All style, not so much substance.

Having said that, the other strong point of the film — aside from Miss Verdú's performance — is Kiko de la Rica's cinematography. Earlier in the film, wide shots of the dome are prominent. During medium close-ups, shadows and lighting were impressively utilized.

Blancanieves is an ambitious film that achieves a little than expected, but this right here is a promising effort from Pablo Berger. Not a bad way to fuel a filmmaking career. At the same time, this film is also an imaginative tribute to the silent era.

Trailer for Blancanieves:

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