2012 has seen rather a lot of adaptations of Snow White but Blancanieves – literally Snow White in Spanish – carries genuine Oscar hopes for Spain. Silent (although accompanied by a gorgeous musical score) and black and white, this gothic tale has been drawing comparisons with The Artist but those two features aside, they’re nothing alike. While The Artist is a French film steeped in Hollywood and easily mistaken for American, Blancanieves with its flamenco dancing, bullfighting and Catholic iconography is so Sevillean as to almost be a tourist-baiting cliché.
Most people presumably already know the story of Snow White, and it is this general thread that the film follows. However, this flavour has stripped most of the supernatural elements and is 1920s in period style. Carmen (Inma Cuesta), a lovely and successful flamenco dancer, is married to Spain’s greatest matador, Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho). We open on the day Antonio enters the bullring for the last time, as he is severely gouged by a bull in its final throes. The shock sends Carmen into early labour and while the surgeons operate on the father, the mother dies in childbirth. Antonio survives his accident but grief-stricken and suffering quadriplegia, rejects the baby Carmencita, leaving her to be brought up by her grandmother – played by the fabulous Ángela Molina. Meanwhile, Antonio’s opportunistic nurse Encarna manages to wangle a position as wife number two and here we have our Wicked Stepmother.
The performances throughout Blancanieves are all very strong but special mentions go to Maribel Verdú, who is fantastically horrible as Encarna, and Sofía Oria who plays the young Carmencita. Some of the fun leaks away once Carmencita grows up and no longer shares a roof with Encarna and you can’t help but root a little for the evil stepmother, as adult Carmencita (Macarena García) is nothing like as appealing or peppy as her younger counterpart.
In a post-film Q&A, director Pablo Berger said that when he was trying to sell the script back in 2004, those few producers who actually got past the monochrome, silent aspect, balked at the amount of money that would be needed, and you can see why. This film, which took six years to make, is huge and impressive to look at, with its massive bullfighting arenas and intricate costumes.
Apart from the first half being stronger than the second, as mentioned above, I do have two quibbles. One is that being an adaptation of Snow White, you’re inevitably pre-spoiled. (If you really don’t remember how the fairy tale goes, you might want to stop reading here.
Still with me? Okay…) It felt as if I was constantly waiting to see how Berger would handle the key points – how would Antonio die? What drives Carmencita to the dwarves? Without magic, how will the mirror moment be handled? When will Encarna bring the poisoned apple? It’s hard to lose yourself completely in this beautifully created world while looking out for these things. The other problematic aspect were the final scenes, which soured the ending for me. As true to the original story as it might be, it’s hard to stomach watching people kiss a comatose girl, especially as this is in a much more modern setting than the original. However, judging by the laughs amongst the rest of the audience, I am apparently in a minority that would feel that way.
Blancanieves is bold, beautiful, and brilliant but currently doesn’t have a UK release date. However, it’s hard to believe it won’t at least make it to the arthouses at some point.