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Blancanieves - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published October 16th 2013
Snow White is reborn in 1920s Spain
Director: Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73)
Cast: Macarena Garcia, Maribe Verdu, Daniel Gimenez Cacho

Blancanieves is destined to be compared to the Oscar winning The Artist. After all, it's not often that a black and white, silent movie is made, let alone released in cinemas. Despite it's considerable merits though, audiences shouldn't expect to be swept off their feet by the rare charm and romanticism that the 2011 French film generated.

blancanieves macarena garcia
Macarena Garcia as Snow White

Blancanieves, Spanish for Snow White, is a re-working of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. In this version, transported to Spain in the 1920s, Snow White is the daughter of a celebrated bullfighter who is badly mauled by a bull just before she is born. Her mother fares even worse, dying during child birth, giving a rather sinister looking mid-wife the opportunity to ingratiate herself upon the invalid toreador and marry him for his money.

For the first part of the film, Snow White is raised by her benevolent grandmother, but when she passes away, Snow White's evil step-mother has no choice but to take her in. Despite the luxury of the family mansion, Snow White's life is made a misery by the step-mother and any contact with her helpless invalid father, locked away in his room, is forbidden.

blancanieves Maribel Verdu
Maribel Verdu as the evil step mother

The dwarfs aren't worked into the story until the second half, and curiously there are only six of them, although they are always referred to as the seven dwarfs. They are in fact bullfighters too, and they take Snow White aboard their travelling show where she quickly puts to use the skills her chair-ridden father taught her. It's worth pointing out that although many of the climactic scenes involve bull fighting, director Berger is careful not to include any scenes of bulls actually being hurt.

Blancanieves is a film to be admired for it's aesthetics and novelty more so than it's dramatic impact. It is, after all, a simplistic story with all the light and shade provided by the excellent cinematography and not by the characters.

Despite this, the actors all acquit themselves well. The always marvellous Maribel Verdu gets to let loose as the nefarious step-mother, Macarena Garcia has a strong presence as the adult Snow White, and Emilio Gavira is especially good as the dwarf who harbours an unrequited love for the titular character.

blancanieves 6 dwarfs
No, you're not missing something. Despite advertising themselves as the 7 dwarfs, there are only 6 of them.

The lush orchestral score is also worthy of mention. Alfonso de Vilallonga has fashioned something that easily recalls films of the golden years of cinema in addition to some more traditional flamenco sounds.

The film clearly has it's admirers, it won Best Film at the Goyas (Spanish Oscars) earlier this year. What's really strange is that Spain submitted it to the Academy Awards as their Foreign Language Film entry, even though it's silent! The inter-titles were in Spanish, but there really isn't much to them.

We of course get English inter-titles and it is this version that made it into the top 10 audience poll at MIFF 2013. While I wouldn't rate it that highly, for me the film really hits it's stride in the final 10 minutes, which are genuinely haunting and unexpected.

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Why? An audience favourite at MIFF
Where: At selected cinemas
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