Film Review: Blancanieves

Often amusing silent black-and-white take on the classic &#8220;Snow White&#8221; tale retrofitted into a family of 1920s Seville bullfighters enters the ring behind<i> The Artist</i> triumph and impresses not much beyond being another visually impactf

Word is that the curiosity that is Blancanieves (Spanish for Snow White), Spain’s recent submission for Oscar foreign-language consideration, was in the works well before The Artist. Its late arrival shouldn’t detract from filmmaker Pablo Berger’s spin on the beloved fairytale, as he has a savvy grasp of silent-film conventions. What might make for a shorter life in the ring is the bullfighting theme (blood sports and characters who embrace them aren’t every viewer’s glass of Rioja). Another red cape is the film’s low charm quotient, charm being what The Artist had in spades.

Still, Blancanieves offers novelty and some pretty stunning visuals that should keep eyeballs engaged. Respecting its source material but adding some Spanish spice, Berger gives us his Snow White character by way of Carmen (Macarena Garcia), whose mother died after giving birth to her. She is left in the hands of her beloved father Antonio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a famous matador who becomes severely gored in a bullfight. Unfortunately, he married the monstrously evil Encarna (Maribel Verdú), who becomes Carmen’s stepmother.

When an aged, wheelchair-bound Antonio finally dies, Carmen is on her own in the handsome family villa to endure Encarna’s cruel tyranny, including an unspeakable prank done to Carmen’s beloved rooster. Ultimately, Carmen flees the stepmother and, wandering the countryside, is rescued by a troupe of bullfighting dwarfs who travel by wagon to their fights. A stark contrast to Encarna, these little guys are kind and encourage Carmen, whom they anoint Snow White, to try her talent in the ring.

Like her father, Carmen becomes a bullfighting star, but the ensuing publicity reaches Encarna, who will confront Carmen in perhaps her most dangerous showdown. This occurs at the area’s most important bullfighting match, where Carmen must also confront a dangerous bull (although there’s some intrigue regarding which animal—gentle or vicious—will be sent into the ring). Obviously, this is a Snow White who does not whistle while she works.

The film’s strong score from Alfonso de Vilallonga and some occasional inter-titles in English enhance this unusual journey, as does Kiko de la Rica’s inventive cinematography (dramatic overheads of the bullrings, dissolves, montages, occasional effects, etc.)

In spite of an abundance of flash and nerve (yes, the dwarfs do their fighting against small bulls), this winner of ten Goya Awards with ringside appeal on the Spanish home front might find stateside appeal as challenging as a charging bull.