Carmencita (Sofia Oria) is the young daughter of celebrated matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), cast from grace when her now-quadriplegic father marries his nurse, the cruel, conniving Encarna (Maribel Verdú). Once a teenager, Encarna orders Carmen (Macarena Garcia) to be killed but she is rescued by Los Enanitos Toreros, a troupe of bullfighting dwarves who travel between cities. They nickname her Blancanieves [Snow White in Spanish] and she soon discovers a new and perilous calling: becoming Spain's first female toreador.
Review by Louise Keller:
A striking and highly innovative twist on the Snow White tale, Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger's silent, black and white film speaks loudly from the heart displaying all the colour and verve of a majestic bullfight. Of course, it is impossible to ignore the fanfare and acclaim of Michel Hazanavicius's 2011 acclaimed The Artist that returned black and white silent story telling to the screen, but Blancanieves shines in its own unique spotlight. This is a special film that resonates on every level - cinematically, intellectually and emotionally.
The story is established with finesse and style. Aided by the occasional use of stylised title cards, complete with traditional graphics, the scene is set in a grand bullfighting arena in Seville, where all the drama involving the matador and the bull is preceded by the theatrics, costume and ceremony. The music tempo is 3/4 and as triumph turns to tragedy, the time signature changes. Pathos oozes generously throughout, beginning with the tragedy of a wheelchair bound matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) under the spell of a conniving, money grubbing Encarna (Maribel Verdú), who we recognise as the wicked witch character from the onset. I love the imagery as young Carmencita's (Sofia Oria) white communion dress is dipped into a vat of dye and becomes black before our eyes, as a happy childhood becomes transformed into dark, solemn gloom and despair. She has one sole friend, a pet rooster called Pepe - all events accentuated by ever-increasing ominous music strains.
The austere family home where the imposing portrait of her famous father hangs on the panelled walls of the sweeping staircase offers shades of Rebecca and Mrs Danvers, and there are heart-warming scenes as Carmencita gets to know her father, who teaches her the art of twirling a cape before the statue of life-size bull statue. Marcarena Garcia in the role of the older Carmencita is vulnerable and lovely and by the time she meets and is rescued by the seven bullfighting dwarves (one of which is a cross dresser), we have totally been seduced by the tale.
There is no mirror on the wall, but there is a poisoned apple, exploitation and love's first kiss in this film that won 10 Goya awards including best film, screenplay, music, cinematography, best new actress for Macarena García and best actress for Maribel Verdú. Verdú positively sizzles as the despicable, glamorous manipulator who preens and delights in her own selfish vanity and ambitions. There are countless priceless moments, none more moving than one in that huge Seville arena towards the film's end where the film's black and white status is reinforced in an unexpected way. Bitter sweet moments are a-plenty and I still have a lump in my throat from the unforgettable final scene. A film like this does not come along every day, so grab the bull by its horns!
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a beautiful film.
Making the most of a double layered homage - one to black & white silent movies of the 20s, the other to refashion the Grimms' Snow White fairy tale - Pablo Berger invites us into the dark world of good v evil as the Grimm brothers liked to tell it. Fairy stories are larger than life, and cinema of the 20s also used an exaggerated style. But while daring and bold, Berger is careful to moderate these aspects so as not to alienate modern audiences.
The classic elements of an evil stepmother, beautiful daughter, greed and vanity are cleverly mixed in this virtuoso concoction which soars on a multi-faceted score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. Music is crucial in this film. While the score is faithful to 1920s conventions to some extent, it is unafraid to synch with the images, replicating the soundtrack that might have been (eg clapping to a Flamenco dance, a church bell ringing, a vinyl record playing a favoured tune, etc).
Beautifully lit (as if shot on old fashioned silver nitrate stock) and offering tight close ups to show emotion and occasional title cards to fill in only essential information, the film straddles drama and fantasy with flair.
Perhaps the most important element in this film is the casting; from the lovely youngster Sofia Oria to Macarena Garcia as the beautiful teenage Carmen, from the evil Encarna played by the talented Maribel Verdú, to Angela Molina as the lovely granny Dona Concha, the cast is perfect. Then there are the bullfighting dwarves, another unique element and all unique - perhaps a masterstroke. (Look out for the one who looks like a miniature Bert Newton in drag.)
Daniel Giménez Cacho has the toughest role as the bullfighter Antonio Villalta, whose wife dies in childbirth after which he is soon badly gored and wheelchair bound. The screenplay fudges what keeps Carmencita apart from her father as she grows up, but we can speculate that perhaps Antonio finds it too painful face the child who killed - and reminds him of - his wife, as it were. But fate reunites them, and the story develops new themes as Carmen is folded into the embrace of her new family, the bullfighting dwarves.
The filmmakers ask us to enter this world with the naïve innocence of children and the sophisticated movie palates of adults, and they give us a sublime, moving finale.
Footnote: Blancanieves was one of 12 films invited to this year's Ebertfest (April 2013), and (the late lamented) Roger was one of the movie's biggest champions. It is also the winner of three Goya Awards in Spain: Best Film, Best Actress (Maribel Verdu) and Best Screenplay. At San Sebastian, Macarena Garzia won the Best Actress Award.
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CAST: Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Pere Ponce, Macarena Garcia, Sofia Oria, José María Pou
PRODUCER: Pablo Berger, Ibon Cormenzana, Jerome Vidal
DIRECTOR: Pablo Berger
SCRIPT: Pablo Berger (inspired by the Brothers Grimm)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kiko de la Rica
EDITOR: Fernando Franco
MUSIC: Alfonso de Vilallonga
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alain Beinée
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 24, 2013