Writen and Directed by Pablo Berger
Starring Maribel Verdu, Macarena Garcia, Emilio Gavira, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Imma Cuesta, Angela Molina
In 2012 fairy tales were hot and it was the year of Snow White. Not only was she a major character in Once Upon a Time, but there were two major Hollywood films about the story: Mirror Mirror, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Neither film impressed anyone* but naming the best version of the story out that year is easy: It’s Blancanieves. And I can prove it with two words: bullfighting dwarfs.
In the 1920s, Antonio Villata (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is a renowned bullfighter, plying his trade with his pregnant wife Carmen (Imma Cuesta) in the stands. But he makes a fatal mistake and is badly gored and left paralyzed. Carmen goes into labor at the same time but dies as her daughter is born. Antonio’s nurse Encarna, seeing Antonio as a rich, helpless widower, schemes to get into his good graces and marries him. Meanwhile the baby – also named Carmen – lives with her grandmother Dona Concha (Angela Molina) until her death, when she become the ward of her stepmother and ailing father.
Encarna has no use for the girl and turns her into a household drudge, keeping her away from her father and torturing her for disobedience. After she grow up, Carman (now Macarena Garcia) becomes a problem to Encarna, so is sent into the woods to be killed. Left for dead, a dwarfs find her and she discovers her innate talent for bullfighting.
I have left out an important fact about the film: it’s silent and in black and white. That turned out to be an big problem for the film since, just as they were starting to shoot it, The Artist premiered at Cannes. The high concept was gone. Pablo Berger had been working on developing the film for years, and his disappointment was intense.
But there is one difference between the films. The Artist was a love letter to the Hollywood silent film, whereas Blancanieves was the same for European silents. And Blancanieves is not the same sort of feel good story.
As for the cast, Mirabel Verdu redefines the archetype of evil stepmother. She is vain, cold, scheming, heartless, and gratuitously cruel. Not to mention just a little bit sexually kinky. Sofia Oria is heartbreaking as the young Carmen, while Macarena Garcia bring real star quality and emotional depth (all without words) to her adult version.
What really sets the film apart is the way it’s willing to jettison the fairy tale to make a stronger story. It follows the lines of the original story, but concentrates more on young Carmen’s troubles and throws in plenty of things that are not in the original.
The film was a critical success, winning most of Spain’s major film awards. It was their entry into the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but did not get a nomination. However, the success of The Artist killed the novelty of the black and white images, and the two other Snow White variations that year probably made the concept a hard sell. It’s US box office was dismal.
Now, though, it’s on Netflix, and one of the best films I’ve seen in awhile.
*Though I think both are better than their reputation says