The Brothers Grimm’s pitch black fairytale Snow White is transformed by the Flamenco rhythms of 1920s Spain in director Pablo Berger’s sumptuous and beguiling Blancanieves (2012), out now on Collector’s Edition DVD. An unabashed homage to the silent cinema of twenties Europe, Berger’s film is a delightfully mischievous reinvention of this age-old fairytale. Last year saw two larger-than-life adaptations of the Snow White story – Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror and Rupert Sanders’ angsty Snow White and the Huntsman – yet Berger’s direction is far more outlandish and indirect than both aforementioned renditions.
Setting his version in Seville, Berger presents his audience with a silent, black and white tale of the daughter of famous bullfighter Carmenita (played as a child by Sofía Oria, and later by Macarena García), raised by an evil stepmother after her father is paralysed during a performance. Instead of seven dwarfs, we have six miniature bullfighters, and instead of a magic mirror on the wall, Berger’s malevolent Queen (Maribel Verdú) relies upon the vain pursuit of fashion magazine coverage to determine who is the fairest of them all.
The most enchanting element of Blancanieves has to be its charming Buñuelian cinematography, an enchanting collection of alluring visuals which jump from Berger’s cinematic canvas and hypnotise with their striking composition. Anchored by a spellbinding score (courtesy of Alfonso de Vilallonga) that skips from stirring classical renditions to the pulse quickening vibrancy of Flamenco, Blancanieves is a pure sensory delicacy. The film is further enhanced further by some breathtaking performances – most noticeably Verdú as the malignant and narcissistic antagonist, whose scene stealing presence – coupled with her electrifying demeanour – creates a memorable villain for this daring new adaptation.
Sadly, Berger’s Snow White is far from perfect, with the director’s decision to merge the heightened melodrama of silent cinema with the Gothic fantasy of fairytale, resulting in a film which struggles to stay grounded, too often indulging in camp humour and nods to cinematic/literary influences, that sadly dilutes the charm evoked from the lavish production design and sweeping score. A little cluttered and unfocused to be a true classic, Blancanieves is clearly a labour of love, but one that’s perhaps a little too much on the self-indulgent side.
Comparisons with Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011) can and have been made, and due to the financial impediments faced by Berger (the film’s script was written back in 2004), his nostalgic venture into the archives of cinematic history sadly lost the race (although the success of Hazanavicius’ film undoubtedly helped open the door for its theatrical release this year). Reservations aside, this gloriously enjoyable surrealist romp remains a beautifully rendered, playful adventure that proves difficult not to become besotted with.
This review was originally published on 17 October, 2012, as part of our London Film Festival coverage.
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