This silent black and white reworking of the Snow White fairy tale had the misfortune of being released in close proximity to the awards-hoovering behemoth that was The Artist. Blancanieves deserves to find its audience, as it’s a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that combines nostalgia with irreverence to great effect.
In 1920s Spain, the wife of wounded bullfighter Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) dies after giving birth to his daughter. The young Carmencita (Sofia Oria) has a happy life with her grandmother, but she is forced to go and live with her father when her grandmother dies, who has married his cruel nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Jealous of the happiness that Carmencita brings Antonio, Encarna conjures a way to be rid of her and sends her off into the woods…
Although there are, strictly speaking, no fantasy elements in Blancanieves, it’s an incredibly faithful adaptation of the Snow White story.
From the seven dwarves to the poisoned apple, writer/director Pablo Berger makes sure that he sticks as close as possible to the Grimm brothers’ tale. True to the spirit of the authors, Blancanieves has a seductive darkness balancing its frivolity.
Maribel Verdú dominates the film as Encarna, the Evil Queen, channelling humour, rage, and a dark sexuality. Macarena García holds her own as the older Carmencita, although she’s given a run for her money by Sofía Oria, who is marvellous as her young counterpart. It’s worth mentioning that Berger’s take on the Seven Dwarves subplot fits superbly into the film, and develops the characters more than any other recent Snow White film.
The silent film treatment is more than a simple gimmick. Like The Artist, this is a loving tribute to the cinema of that era. Berger plays with its techniques and luxuriates in its glamour.
Visuals aside, it’s also a fascinating interpretation of a classic fairytale. As childlike innocence contrasts with those adult themes of sex and death, Blancanieves somehow feels both traditional and quite daring, and it’s a beautiful film that deserves your attention.