Blancanieves, (Snow White) directed by Pablo Berger was Spain’s official entry to the Oscars’ Foreign Language Category and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012. It enjoyed a lot of critical success during its various festival screenings. The film is a retelling of Snow White, set in 1920s Spain with a few notable differences.
In this version there are no kingdoms, kings and queens. Snow White is instead the daughter of a very wealthy and successful matador or a bullfighter. He is also deeply in love with his wife who sadly dies during childbirth. He is unable to get over the grief of losing his wife because while his wife is in childbirth, he simultaneously suffers an awful accident in the bullring, which leaves him crippled. He suddenly loses the two things that he loved most: his career and his wife. He is inconsolable and can’t even bring himself to look at his daughter. Meanwhile, the evil stepmother finally makes her appearance in the form of his nurse. She slowly insinuates herself into every aspect of his life and eventually marries him. His daughter, Carmencita (Carmen), lives with her maternal grandmother who does everything possible to make sure that the child doesn’t feel unloved or unwanted. But this is Snow White, so people can’t possibly be happy for too long. Carrmen’s grandmother suddenly suffers a heart attack and succumbs to it. She is then sent to live with her father and her stepmother. Things progress predictably from there. But there are a few significant differences and the film is more engaging for them.
The dark tone of the movie is interspersed with some light moments. Blancanieves is silent and black and white but unlike The Artist (which was a black and white silent film) this doesn’t feel like a gimmick, like the makers had to rely on tricks to draw in viewers. The plot and screenplay were sound enough on their own and these elements only served to heighten the mood of the film. Even the way the director uses the lack of sound was very different, for instance, in one scene where Carmen and her grandmother are celebrating her birthday, her grandmother plays music on a record player and the music starts in sync with the visual. It looks like the source of the music really is the player. You only realise differently, when the record player stops running but the music does not. This doesn’t normally happen in silent movies, as there was usually a live orchestra in the movie theatre. The film is well directed and even the cinematography is excellent. The performances are good throughout especially Mirabel Verdu who played the evil stepmother with a great deal of relish.
In a year when there were three other Snow White adaptations, this was clearly the best of the three, not just in terms of direction but also its treatment of the story. It is the kind of the film that stays with the viewer long after it’s over.
Here’s the trailer for the film: