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FILM REVIEW: Blancanieves

Categories: Movies

Strange to see critics praising Blancanieves as "the most original film of the year." Original might not be the best descriptor, perhaps "elemental" is better. Stripped to the essentials, this Spanish silent version of Snow White stands apart.

Shot in a black-and-white ode to the early days of film, at first glance Blancanieves resembles the Oscar-winning film The Artist.  While The Artist is full of self-referential pleasures, Blancanieves is much more than a nostalgia-flavoured throwback. Director/writer Pablo Berger has taken the thorny essence of the original Grimm's fairy tale and placed it in the bullfighting rings of 1920s Spain.

 The great bullfighter falls under the thumb of his scheming wife. (Cohen Media Group)

The movie begins as curtains open on a square screen with rounded corners. The music sets the mood, as we watch Antonio, a great bullfighter, somberly tying his sash around the glittering matador's jacket. But an ill-timed flash sets in a motion a series of tragedies leaving the proud matador relying on his scheming nurse Encarna.

Born into this tale of woe is young Carmen, who is eventually taken in by her father's domineering new wife. Maribel Verdú (Pan's Labyrinth), with her arch cheekbones and predator's smile, is pure menace as the stepmother Encarna. Sneaking out from her sleeping quarters (a dusty coal room) Carmen finally discovers her father, a reclusive shut-in, trapped under Encarna's perfectly painted thumbnail. As the camera flutters about, Carmen and her rooster pet explore her new home and soon begin to grasp just how devious this new mother is.

Although Blancanieves can't escape the shadow of The Artist, director Berger actually began his film years before the Oscar-winner existed. Where The Artist was sentimental, Blancanieves cuts sharply with a tone that brings to mind early Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro. This is movie filled with gasps, achingly artful transitions and wide expressive faces (from a host of first-time actors) that fill in what the actors don't say in this dialogue-free movie. Although this version of Snow White might drag when the little people enter the tale, in the end it casts a powerful spell all its own.

RATING: 4.5/5

 Young Carmen finds herself trapped in a menacing world. (Cohen Media Group)

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