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With: Maribel Verdś, Daniel GimŽnez Cacho, çngela Molina, Inma Cuesta, Macarena Garc’a, Sof’a Oria, Josep Maria Pou, Ram—n Barea, Pere Ponce, Emilio Gavira, Sergio Dorado
Written by: Pablo Berger
Directed by: Pablo Berger
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent content and sexuality
Language:
Running Time: 104
Date: 19/04/2013
IMDB

Blancanieves (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Silent Snow

Forget The Artist. That movie had no love or appreciation for the art of silent cinema. For those filmmakers, silent cinema was primitive and ridiculous, and the movie's victory only came when its characters learned to talk.

Now comes Pablo Berger's Blancanieves, a new, purely silent movie from Spain that never once speaks and doesn't need to speak. What's more, it seems to get the infinite possibilities of silence, and how much passion can come from it. And what is more passionate than the "Snow White" story or bullfighting?

Yes, Berger has given us (perhaps) the world's first Snow White bullfighting story. Blancanieves -- which means "Snow White" -- starts with the story of a famous, legendary bullfighter Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and a beautiful flamenco dancer (Inma Cuesta). One night, a photographer's flash causes Antonio to be gored by a bull the same night his wife gives birth. The dancer dies and the bullfighter becomes a quadriplegic. A conniving nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdú, from Y Tu Mamá También and Pan's Labyrinth), sees an opportunity; she seduces and marries Antonio, forbidding his daughter to ever see him.

When the Snow White character, named Carmen (Macarena García), grows into a strikingly beautiful young woman, Encarna orders her death. In the fairy tale a woodsman becomes too enchanted by Snow White's beauty to kill her. In this version, Encarna's lover is sent to perform the task, and he actually makes the attempt. Left for dead, Carmen survives, but has lost her memory. She's rescued by six (not seven) bullfighting dwarves, and she discovers that she has an innate talent for the ring. (Her father gave her lessons.)

Carmen's beauty and skill -- and the novelty of the act -- catapults them to stardom, and back into Encarna's awareness. She makes a poison apple to give to the victorious Carmen after a fight. One major difference in this movie is that there's no Prince Charming. Instead, one of the dwarves falls in love with Carmen. He's Rafita (Sergio Dorado), a sturdy fellow with a dreamy, kind, and handsome face. You begin to root for them with all your heart. But I guarantee you will never see the ending coming. If Blancanieves has a shortcoming, it's that it believes more in the fairy tale as a warning than as a confirmation of hope and love, and many viewers are likely to be turned off by the movie's consuming darkness.

Writer/director Berger seems to fully understand the thing that made stars like Valentino and Garbo smolder back in the silent era, and conjures it up again. The storytelling is over-the-top, but as delivered purely in visuals and music, it never breaks through to reality. Only the emotions survive (any dialogue would have killed it). Berger lets his potent actors -- each of them well-chosen -- do their work for most of the time, but occasionally pitches in with moody shadows. Even the bright Spanish sunlight casts a spell of its own.

Like The Artist, Blancanieves has been smothered in awards in its home country and elsewhere; it was submitted for Oscar consideration, but of course, was snubbed. (The Oscars are often just a little bit behind the times.) I wonder if all these accolades will inspire many other silent cinema copycats. I certainly hope so. There's still plenty of room to move in this expressive format. For too long the perception was that the lack of sound was a shortcoming, but in truth, it was a challenge for filmmakers to step up and use their imaginations. Pablo Berger has done that, and more, with Blancanieves.