5:34 PM EDT, April 25, 2013
From Spain, here's a miracle of fairy tale repurposing: a version of the Brothers Grimm's "Snow White," set in Spanish bullfighting country in the late 1920s.
Writer-director Pablo Berger's "Blancanieves" goes all the way with its concept, and then further. This is a black-and-white silent film, even more so than "The Artist" was. ("The Artist" snuck in some sound, if you'll recall.) While I enjoyed "The Artist" I prefer Berger's picture, visually and every other way. Some of the reviews in the U.S. have been on the sniffy side; me, I was entranced by Berger's light-fingered confidence and the utter lack of facetiousness.
Once upon a time in Seville, a revered bullfighter (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) won hearts and admiration for his prowess with the cape and the sword. Then, tragedy: A near-fatal accident in the ring causes his pregnant wife (Inma Cuesta) to go into labor and die on the table, leaving behind a healthy daughter, Carmen. She's played at age 7 by Sofia Oria and then, with the passage of many years signified by the fluttering of a bedsheet on a laundry line, in young adulthood by Macarena Garcia.
The infirm bullfighter's serpent-like new wife, played by top-billed Maribel Verdu of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," treats Carmen like dirt. But Carmen takes solace in her rooster friend, Pepe, who surely will end up at the Old Animal and Fowl Actors' Home someday alongside Uggie from "The Artist."
Berger has a ripe sense of humor, and it's occasionally at odds with the melodramatic atmosphere. But make no mistake: "Blancanieves" takes its emotions seriously. Those requiring a Disneyfied happy ending may resist the one they get here, which is more Grimm than Walt. En route, the film is a gorgeous achievement. Berger's facility with rapid-fire montage, particularly in a key early bullfight sequence, brakes right at the edge of parody. This is a splendidly edited exercise in style (Fernando Franco is listed as editor), with richly brocaded silvers, grays and blacks courtesy of cinematographer Kiko de la Rica. Best of all: the musical score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. It's terrific — witty, symphonically lush and shrewdly informed by flamenco strains throughout.
'Blancanieves' -- 3 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and sexuality)
Running time: 1:44
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