The girl anachronism

Blancanieves23SR: An entrancing black and white fairytale which transports Snow White to the dusty bullfighting rings of 1920s Spain. Every single shot is a masterpiece, heartbreaking and charming by turns.

Starring: Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina

Written and directed by Pablo Berger

Drama, world cinema. 1hr 44mins. M for adult themes

****1/2 stars

Once upon a time there was a daring, Spanish film maker named Pablo Berger, who had a passion for early cinema, bold imagery and the traditions of his homeland.

Something of a magician, he drew on all these passions to create a glorious black and white concoction called Blancanieves, entrancing all who saw it.

Carmencita (Sofia Oria) is born amid tragedy – her mother dies bringing her into the world on the same day her legendary father’s bullfighting career ends on the horns of a rampaging bull.

She grows up in her grandmother’s house desperate for the love of her absent father, but when her grandmother dies, forcing Carmencita to go and live with her father and stepmother, her trials truly begin.

Tortured by her stepmother, Carmen (Macarena Garcia) flees and injured is taken in by carnival act of dwarf matadors.  With their help she discovers she has the blood of a matador in her veins and not even the machinations of her murderous stepmother can stop her from following in her father’s footsteps.

Forget gaudy disasters like Mirror Mirror, The Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Blancanieves  – Snow White – is a fairy tale film in a class of its own.

Transporting the Grimm brothers’ tale from medieval Germany to the dusty bullfighting rings of 1920s Spain, Blancanieves is an anachronistic treat.

It’s silent,  which might be a little difficult for modern viewers to get their heads around at first, but the gorgeous visual language of black and white film will soon win you over.

From the vignetted frames to the larger than life emotions, Berger’s homage to the hey day of silent films is a fairly faithful imitation, although more  sophisticated than many old-timey melodramas.

It’s certainly prettier. Every single shot is a masterpiece in it’s own right, with deep crushed blacks and sparkling whites, as if legendary black and white photographer Man Ray designed the film.

And like Man Ray’s work, Blancanieves is rich with symbolism and metaphor which speaks louder than dialogue could –  a communion dress dyed black for a funeral, gnarled faces in a bull ring baying for blood, the twisted initials in a grand gateway that looks more like a prison fence.

Telling a story with images and actions alone would be all but impossible without a gifted and expressive cast.  Maribel Verdu and the twisted evil stepmother, Encarna, is stand out, inhabiting the role with a lascivious gusto. While Garcia’s innocent charm as the adult Carmen will have you cheering for her as she takes her place in the ring for the first time.

It’s a beautiful, subtle, balanced experience the likes of which bigger budgeted fairy tale inspired films seem incapable.

It’s a pity, because if even a mote of Blancanieves panache filtered into the gaudy world of Hollywood, then we’d all live much more happily ever after.


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