“Way beyond being just an homage to another era of film making – Blancanieves stands on it’s own two feet as a significant new contribution to the genre of silent film.”
Review (text version)
(Greg looks off camera to some unidentified point of interest. He’s perplexed for a moment, then turns to the camera and speaks…) You were wondering what I was looking at, right? What took my attention over there?
I could have said, “Hey’ that light stand over there is on an odd angle” and you could have been in the kitchen making a cuppa and still got what was going on – but how interesting is that for you? It’s not exactly the highlight of my week either but… the point I’m making is I communicated that I was perplexed by something over there without words – you, dear audience of three – were given a job to do. Interpret what you were seeing. You had to use those primal skills that have been bread into you over tens of thousands of years – to observe, interpret and react.
Now entire movies were like that until the little Jewish song and dance man in black face said “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet”… actually he wasn’t the first to speak on screen and he wasn’t in black face when he said it but how that myth has ingrained itself in popular culture!
Until the very late 1920s audiences watching silent melodramas participated through interpretation – there were no words to tell them what characters were thinking what they were doing or why they were doing it, at best a few scant title cards would pop up to provide a significant plot point but only if it couldn’t be conveyed through the images and the performances.
What the people on the screen were thinking and feeling an audience could only know by interpreting what was on the faces of the actors and the characters reaction to places, objects and each other. The audience had to watch, very closely, and do something they never get to do during a Marvel superhero movie – exercise their brains and emotions, not just their eyes and ears.
Is the silent melodrama a totally lost art form? Sure, there have been a few attempts over the years but often they were leaning towards parody or borrowing some techniques as they saw fit and the rest of it was more like a modern film that just happened to be in black and white with no dialogue – a sort of fun gimmick – but to go beyond the surface techniques and get right inside to the heart of the genre… Blancanieves does it and does it very, very well and brimming with entertainment.
It presents the look, the feeling, the sophistication of story telling through images just as it might have done in the period. It also allows for the actors to play with a whole different set of performance skills as they dispense with the voice and communicate entirely with this… plus the underrated and so often misunderstood black art of film editing.
The film is a retelling of the Snow White fairytale, and haven’t we had a few too many of those in recent years? But here it’s almost unrecognisable, set in a world of bull fighters, flamenco dancers.
Macarena Garcia plays the daughter of a famous bull fighter (this is in place of the traditional princess and king idea). The bullfighter dies… oh, wait, no he doesn’t, in a neat twist he lives in this version but don’t worry there is a wicked step mother and she is the most bad ass of them all.
Maribel Verdu oozes social climbing cunning as she decides to move in on the old king… I mean bullfighter… and make life hell for the young daughter and her pet chicken – don’t laugh, it works really well.
Time passes, the little girl grows up step mother feels threatened by her presence and gets heavy on her case. You know the deal. Girl goes on the run and… I’m not gonna tell you the rest but there are dwarfs – be it a diminished number – Disney said seven but ugggh we can make do with less, including one I’m sure is a cross dresser but hey, I’m all for diversity.
We grow up with this idea that acting in silent movies, because it is often the worst of it that’s parodied, was a terribly coarse thing but the best of it was the exact opposite – extremely subtle and the reason it could be so subtle was…
director’s knew how to really use a close-up and
the audience’s attention was shaped and trained during the first fifteen minutes or so – subconsciously drawn in to paying attention to detail and actively looking for and recognising subtleties that we today completely ignore when actors are up there on a screen talking talking talking… and things are blowing up around them a lot.
There are the inevitable comparisons with THE ARTIST, the French film from 2011 that took out the oscar for best picture but where that was a glossy fare inspired by a rather fluid idea of what was happening in Hollywood in the era (and happily borrows gimmicks from later periods for a gag when seen fit), Blancanieves deploys authentic boundaries and draws much more from a European tradition of the era – more organic, more visceral and definitely more naturalistic, especially in the style acting.
Verdu as the step mother and Garcia as Snow White, both play it straight, the director Pablo Berger provides the close-ups when we need to really read their emotions and we “get it”. We DO pay attention and as result glean the emotional rewards.
And the actors here are at the top of their craft, Kiko de la Rica’s vivid cinematography uses every imaginable shade of grey plus the purest backs and whites – it’s dynamic and exciting, all framed in 4:3 aspect ratio with an intentional overlay of a mock aperture plate edge fully revealed… it’s a nice touch and a constant reminder we are looking at something that is not meant to be a slick edged modern movie.
The music score by Alfonso de Villa-longa sweeps from abrasive flamenco to sweeping epic to the most intimate of moments, enriching every scene.
But most of all it’s the drama – the simple tale of innocence, jealousy and unrequited love works with total integrity.
As Director Pablo Berger said himself in an interview for The Guradian,
“…. for me Blancanieves is valid if it only serves as a terrorist act, to remind directors what makes cinema an art form – visual storytelling, editing, music, those elements that were dominant before ‘moving images’ became ‘talking pictures’. Talking pictures – what a horrible term that is.”
Way beyond being just an homage to another era of film making – Blancanieves stands on it’s own two feet as a significant new contribution to the genre of silent film.
Sure, it uses modern technologies to enhance where necessary, but these never draw attention to themselves and stylistically and texturally it’s, very, very faithful to not just mimicking but revitalising a lost art… well, lost until this film came along.
End (silent movie title card)
© Greg Punch 2016
Production company (review):
Film “Blancneives” Producers:
Reference Blu-ray copy of film used for this review:
Distributed by Rialto C-113900-8
Writer / Director:
as Carmen Villalta / Blancanieves
as Encarna, the evil stepmother
Daniel Giménez Cacho
as Antonio Villalta, the father
as Doña Concha, the grandmother
as Carmen de Triana, the mother
as Carmencita, little Carmen
Josep Maria Pou
as Don Carlos, the impresario
as Don Martín, Antonio’s manager
as Genaro Bilbao, Encarna’s chauffeur
as Jesusín (“Grumpy”)
Freeze frames are taken from the film and / or officially released trailer / promotional video of the films
(see “Copyright and Fair Use” section below)
Posters / promotional images
(see “Copyright and Fair Use” section below)
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
“Danse Macabre – Big Hit 1”
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Select stock images / video / sound effects:
Wonderful article about the film and its place in Spanish culture / history / cinema. This is a MUST READ!…
Internet Movie Database listing…
Review from Metacritic…
The “further information” links are correct at the time of publication. Newtown Flicks can not be responsible for dead links or content moved or deleted from other sites after the publication date of this review.
Copyright and Fair Use:
The comments are those of the individual reviewer unless otherwise stated. Each review (spoken and written) is the property of the individual author of that review.
All rights to the film under review, including related promotional elements (e.g. video clips, freeze frames, production stills, posters, box cover art, etc) or materials relating to the documentation of a film’s production (e.g. “on set” or “behind the scenes” photographs or interview comments from cast/crew), remains the exclusive property of the originators / legitimate owners of those elements.
Those elements are reproduced with the intention of “fair use” for the express purpose of review / critique of the film.
Newtown Flicks claims no ownership of this pre existing material and is diligent in ensuring the use is restricted to the relevant video review and related web site known as BETWEEN THE CRACKS.
General site content and original video material
© 2016 Newtown Flicks.