American-Statesman staff writer Nancy Flores wrote this review of “Blancanieves” in 2013, and we’re re-posting it because the movie is screening at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Blanton Museum on the University of Texas campus. Admission is free.
The screening is part of the museum’s Third Thursday programming and is presented in conjunction with the Blanton’s exhibition, Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm.
Here’s the review:
Remaking a famous fairy tale that’s been retold to several generations would be a daunting challenge for any film director. But Pablo Berger’s “Blancanieves” or (“Snow White”) has found originality and a fresh point of view along with a uniquely Spanish approach to the Brothers Grimm tale.
The contemporary silent, black-and-white film is set in 1920s Seville and centers on young Carmencita, whose bullfighting father is a national hero. But after he suffers a terrible accident in the bullring, Carmencita ends up in the clutches of her father’s nurse and new bride. Carmencita eventually escapes the deathly grips of her evil stepmother and joins a group of bullfighting dwarfs.
It was actually a photo of real bullfighting dwarfs, Berger has said, that initially inspired the idea for the evocative story. In the book, “Hidden Spain, ” Magnum photographer Cristina García Rodero captured the striking image that fired up Berger’s imagination.
Though sometimes silent films conjure up images of actors exaggerating body language or facial expressions, Berger’s film avoids this and opts for natural acting, which makes the characters more three dimensional and easier for the viewer to connect with.
In the film, we see Carmencita (Sofía Oria), a little girl living with her loving grandmother after her mother dies in childbirth, transform into Carmen (Macarena García), a young adult forced to live under her evil stepmother’s control.
Her stepmother chops Carmencita’s hair off, makes her do manual labor and forbids her from the mansion’s upstairs floor, where her paralyzed father is kept out of sight. Some of the film’s most moving scenes occur after Carmencita’s pet rooster, Pepe, runs upstairs to the off-limits floor, leading her right to her father. When father and daughter reunite, a new relationship builds. Carmencita often sneaks upstairs, where her father reads to her, where she dances and twirls him around in his wheelchair, and where she learns bullfighting basics from the master.
Once the evil stepmother (Maribel Verdú) discovers this growing father-daughter bond, she steps up her cruelty by serving Pepe for dinner. She later orders Carmen’s death, and Carmen is chased into a river where she’s left for dead until bullfighting dwarfs show up. The traveling troupe, who perform in cities across Spain, name her Blancanieves and ask her to join them.
But this is no Disney film. Berger’s film doesn’t show loyalty to any traditional version of Snow White. Berger’s “Blancanieves” takes a darker approach, which seems appropriate. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, many Spanish and Latin American feature films don’t tend to wrap up neatly in a bow. Hollywood’s portrayal of life often seems light years away from the realities in these countries, where audiences seem drawn to the gray areas of the human condition. And yet depending on how you interpret the film’s climactic ending, you can either feel a glimmer of hope or be heartbroken.
Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.