This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 22nd September 2013
When The Artist shook up cinema and the Academy Awards a couple of years ago, it enchanted audiences but few will have expected a resurgence in black and white, silent movies. A beautiful film, expertly crafted, but nonetheless a bit of a one-trick pony, no?
For Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger, that’s a resounding “No!” Berger had spent many years on his own monochrome, sound- and dialogue-free rendition of Snow White when The Artist pipped him to the innovation post in 2011. Thankfully for us, he didn’t relegate his project to a bottom drawer, but instead went ahead and started shooting. His self-proclaimed “love letter to European silent cinema” takes Snow White’s story to 1920s Andalusia (principally Seville) and creates a far fresher take on the fairytale than the two that Hollywood churned out last year.
Blancanieves starts life as Carmencita, born to a bull-fighting father who unwittingly takes on an evil stepmother who makes their lives miserable. Far darker and more brutal than the tale you’re used to, Carmencita (a luscious, long-lashed Macarena Garcia) witnesses heartbreak before coming of age and running away to take up her father’s profession in the company of Los Enanitos Toreros (dwarf bullfighters).
This is proper old-school black and white cinema, which uses intertitles and artful close-ups to convey exposition in the plot. Superbly nuanced acting has characters relying on facial expressions to convey innermost thoughts and mental machinations. With no sound design (for example, no clopping hooves), the music therefore has to be incredible, and indeed it is – taking us from Spanish guitar through languid oboe and clarinet to honky-tonk piano.
This is one grown-up fairytale worth catching on the big screen.