A BLACK LOOK AT SNOW WHITE
The Artist was never going to revive the silent film industry, but it has made it easier for other film-makers to get their silent films made. None of these has scaled the commercial heights of Hazanavicius’ film, but at least one shows a comparable artistry.
Blancanieves was Spain’s offering for the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. It is a fervid retelling of the story of Snow White, but this is not a movie to babysit kids with. Not unless you want to explain what the nice lady in stockings was doing with the riding crop.
Director Pablo Berger is steeped in silent cinema, particular the work of the Frenchman Abel Gance. But in some ways his film is an anthology of prototypical Spanish concerns. There is flamenco, there is Francoist repression, and most of all there is bullfighting. The heroine ‘Blancanieves’ is the lost daughter of a dashing torero. Raised by a cruel stepmother, she blossoms into her father’s trade as the companion to seven dwarf matadors in a traveling show.
The fairy-tale outlines are clear, but what Berger catches most breathtakingly is the cruel and sinister edges of the fairy-tale world. This is more Grimm than Disney, more Gorey than Perrault.
It is easy to see why Berger spent nearly ten years searching for funding, and only the unexpected success of The Artist could have convinced his investors to take the risk. Whether they recouped their money or not, they can at least be proud of their choice. The film is a revelation. At once sophisticated and brutal, romantic and filled with dread, Blancanieves manages to be both familiar and utterly unpredictable. Silent cinema has a new masterpiece, and it’s out now on DVD.
Posted by Kevin McGee