Blancanieves [ES 2012]

International title: Snow White

Info: I embedded the full movie below.

THE PLOT

Blancanieves is a loose adaptation of Snow White, the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, set during the early 20th century in Seville, Spain. The movie imitates the style of silent pictures of the 1920s, featuring black and white cinematography, a 4:3 aspect ratio, and title cards for dialogues. It tells the story of Carmen, a young girl, whose father was a famous matador, but became a paraplegic after an accident and whose mother died in childbirth. The first years, Carmen is raised by her grandmother, however, after her sudden death, she is forced to live with her father and stepmother. While she only scarcely has contact with her father, whom she nevertheless adores, her stepmother treats her badly, forcing her to do menial work and sleep in the staples. After the death of her father, her stepmother even plots to have her murdered. However, she survives and tries to fill her father’s shoes as a matadora.

WHAT I LIKE

The movie is a very effective throwback to the era of silent films and, thus, has a unique style, with beautiful cinematography, sharp contrasts, and wonderful costumes. Although it uses few locations, the scenery is generally great to look at, e.g. the mansion Monte Olvido or the Coliseo. Often, close-up shots are used to capture the characters’ emotions, which works great, especially in the beginning. The first act basically serves as the characters’ dramatic backstory and is very immersive, even if it has little to do with the original fairy tale. Also, a high degree of symbolism is used throughout (e.g., the poisonous apple, or the funeral of Carmen’s father), which works great, as the movie is essentially a fantasy tale, grounded in reality. In addition, the actors mostly deliver strong performances – even if, characters like the evil stepmother or her henchman can sometimes be too over the top, i.e. during their erotic games. Lastly, the central characters all have great chemistry, which makes their scenes flow naturally, e.g. between Carmen and her father.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

As mentioned, the character of the stepmother is portrayed in a very flamboyant and excessive way, e.g. she is constantly showing off her new dresses and manipulates the people around her in obvious ways, e.g. at her husband’s funeral or when she moves to a new house. Her sexual relationship with her driver is also over the top, which makes some of her scenes more comical than threatening. Lastly, although the editing is generally decent, there are several unnervingly hectic cuts, e.g. when Carmen’s grandmother dies or when Carmen is strangled. These scenes don’t match the overall style, which follows the cinematography of movies of the silent era, especially of German Expressionism, thus, marring the experience for some viewers.

THE VERDICT

Blancanieves is a drama with fantasy elements that is inspired by the fairy tale Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. It’s set in the early 20th century in Seville, Spain, and focuses on a young girl who grows up with her evil stepmother and her paraplegic father. The movie imitates the style of silent films of that era, e.g. with black and white cinematography and title cards for dialogues. In addition, it introduces an elaborate backstory to the characters and the element of bullfighting, which is popular in Spain. Because of its visual style, the coherent plot, and the mostly great acting, the movie is highly memorable. All of this makes for a unique viewing experience and a thrilling retelling of the well-known fairy tale.

Overall 8/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – The story is a loose adaptation of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. However, the main characters’ backstory is altered, introducing the popular Spanish bullfighting theme as a central element of the characters’ motivations. The original story can be read here [English version]: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm053.html

 – Director Pablo Berger developed the project for eight years before being able to shoot it. He shot the film completely in color and desaturated the material to black-and-white in post-production.

 – The movie is infamous for having violated the Animal Protection Law. After a technician confirmed that the bulls on set were frequently hurt with sticks and banderillas (bullfighting spears), the animal protection association managed to get a sanctioning file against the production company, Arcadia Motion Pictures.

 – Blancanieves shares some similarities with El laberinto del fauno [2006]. Both are fantastical stories that are set in early 20th century Spain, featuring a young girl who is treated badly by her stepparent. In addition, both movies star actress Maribel Verdú.

 – Cinematographer Kiko de la Rica previously also worked on Balade triste de trompeta [2010], a horror movie set in a disturbing freak show circus – similar to the ending of Blancanieves.

 – One of three popular adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale that come out in 2012. The others are Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Also, there were a number of low budget productions that year, like Grimm’s Snow White and Snow White: A Deadly Summer.

 – Set during the early 20th century in Spain, Carmen wouldn’t have been allowed to be a matadora. Up until 1974, the law prohibited women from actively participating in bullfights. The first female matadora was Bertha Trujillo in Colombia (1956), while the first Spanish matadora was Ángela Hernández (1979).

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