In the wake of the surprise international success of "The Artist" two years ago, it was perhaps inevitable that others would attempt to jump on the bandwagon it created by coming up with their own contemporary stabs at silent filmmaking. If this does happen, here is hoping that those films following in its wake are as entertaining as "Blancanieves," Pablo Berger's absolutely delightful riff on Snow White that reconceptualizes the fairy tale amidst the world of bullfighting in 1920's-era Spain.As the film opens, Spain's greatest bullfighter is crippled in the ring, his beloved wife dies giving birth to daughter Carmencita and he quickly and unadvisedly marries his evil nurse (Maribel Verdu), who immediately ships the kid off to live with her grandmother while plundering her enfeebled husband's wealth. After various miseries, including the sad end of the pet chicken that is her only friend, the now-teenage Carmencita (Macarena Garcia) is forced from her home and left for dead before taken in by a group of midget bullfighters who help her develop her skills in order to join their act. I wouldn't dream of revealing what happens from this point but suffice it to say, poisoned fruit does play a part in the proceedings.
It sounds like a joke, I realize, and the fact that it is the third "Snow White" revamp to hit the big screen in the last year or so but "Blancanieves" is the real deal. For one thing, while "The Artist" was an affectionate homage to the waning days of silent cinema, Berger has created his film so that it almost exactly resembles what a genuine silent film from Europe at the time would have looked and felt like. In fact, it so convincingly recreates this particular era of filmmaking without any jokey asides or moments of self-awareness that it is possible to embrace the technique without registering it as such.
The storyline is far more effective at capturing the dark Gothic feel of the original story (especially during its haunting final moments) than most of the recent spate of revised fairy tales and it does so while still containing plenty of excitement and good cheer along the way. Garcia makes for a spritely and energetic heroine while Verdu (who you will recognize from her appearances in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Pan's Labyrinth") makes for an exceptionally alluring vision of pure evil as the wicked stepmother that will no doubt inspire any number of strange and initially confusing feelings in any pre-adolescent boy who happens to see the film.Of course, the likelihood of "Blancanieves" becoming a mainstream breakthrough on the level of "The Artist" and playing at a theater near you is unlikely--although a crowd-pleaser of the highest order (and having seen it unspool before roughly 1500 people last week at Ebertfest, I assure you that it does play like gangbusters), the odds of it getting a chance at a similar rollout are astronomical. If it does open near you, do whatever you can to see it on the big screen where it belongs. If it doesn't, mark it down on your wishlists at Amazon or Netflix for when it comes out on Blu-Ray--I promise you it will be more than worth your while.