“Blancanieves”: Borrowing from the past to tell stories to the present

Blancanieves-poster-2077x3000-103x150Two years ago, “The Artist” took home the Oscar for Best Picture.  A French production with high-production values, a jazzy soundtrack and classy Hollywood setting, the film is a romance and a crowd-pleaser.  The film even has a cute dog.

This year, Spain’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 2012 was also a silent film.  Decidedly different, instead of a modern film made to look like an older period creation, “Blancanieves” has the look and feel of a 1920’s silent film made in that time period.  The action is staged as if the camera must remain stationary while the actors paraded in front of it.  There are static shots, like postcards, to establish the locations and the actors hold their poses for the camera or present themselves in single file for scenes. Though the look and feel of the production calls to mind penny arcades and newsreels, the writer takes a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and gives it a Spanish twist with a modern sensibility.  Instead of a cute performing dog, this film features a rooster.

This is Snow White as if told by Guillermo del Toro.  A “Pan’s Labyrinth” for our young heroine to suffer and battle her way through.  Written and directed by Pablo Berger, this amazing work keeps a few of the fairy tale details but embellishes them with a Spanish world of make-believe.  A bullfighter, a frightening and cruel Stepmother (bondage, anyone?), and a young girl who’s forced to do a lot more than sweep the floors; she’s treated like a mule.  Unlike the Disney version, there’s no prince to ride in and rescue our fair maiden.  No, she must rescue herself and slay her own bulls — and when she finds her “prince”, he is a whole lot shorter than one might expect!

Paco Delgado’s costumes are stunning.  There’s an opening scene of the Bullfighter dressing for the ring that is like a lesson in fashion of the time; the small metal button fastener, the way he spins to wind his cummerbund around his waist, all the details of brocade, buckles and embellishment.  The Stepmother wears the high fashion of Seville. The evil fashionista is shown trying on hats and furs and posing for paintings.  Her goal is to be featured in the magazines.  It’s as if she’s the Kim Kardashian of Spain and even as she rides off to offer her poison apple to our hero, she’s resplendent in black lace with a veil that covers her eyes.

Our young Snow White is played by a charming young actress, Maribel Verdu from “Pan’s Labyrinth”, with expressive eyes and a sunny smile.  She learns flamenco dancing from her grandmother and bull fighting from her father but grows up in the poisoned household of her Stepmother.  Fleeing from the man who’s sent to kill her, the young woman, now played by Angela Molina, loses her memory and finds a new home among the traveling bullfighting “dwarves”. As her memory slowly returns, she finds her place in the ring just as her Wicked Stepmother finds HER.

At 107 minutes, this charming film tests the audience’s patience with many repeated scenes, slow-moving carriages and too many shots of the crowd’s reactions.  While it’s great to see something created in an antiquated style of filmmaking, there needs to be more substance to the story to hold our attention and justify the unusual trip down memory lane.  One thing that could have been shortened is the long coda. It’s a nice twist to have a setting in an old carnival sideshow with a tender scene to help offset the tragedy in the bullring.  It’s bittersweet, but it’s an additional ending and runs too long.

The ending, like “Blancanieves”, though far from fairy tale, is definitely Grimm.

Rating: 3 glasses of Sangria

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