Blancanieves (2012)

(On Cable TV, February 2016) 2012 was the year that Hollywood offered two atypical takes on Snow White, but while everyone was busy criticizing the quirky Mirror, Mirror and the terrible Snow White and the Huntsman, low-key Spanish art piece Blancanieves passed unnoticed despite some striking qualities. Filmed in black-and-white, silent but complete with piano score and title cards, Blancanieves playfully sets the Snow White story in 1920s Spain, largely set within the world of bullfighting. As unlikely as this premise may sound, it pales in comparison with the liberties taken with the source material. In-between an abused disabled father, a passing glimpse of BDSM from the wicked stepmother, Snow White taking up bullfighting, romantic rivalry among the dwarves and a dark conclusion that strongly hint of sexual perversion, this is as far from Disney’s version of the story as can be. Much of it actually works: The quality of the images can be spectacular, especially in how it plays with light and shadow, as well as intricate period detail. There’s clearly something interesting, as well, in seeing writer/director Pablo Berger, with modern thematic concerns, play with the various limitations of a silent black-and-white film. Alongside The Artist (which was released more or less simultaneously), Blancanieves offers an off-beat grammar for film, one that hints at how things could be done differently even today. All of the above compliments being said, I’m not sure I’d take the final step of encouraging most people to seek out and see the film. I’m not sure that the transposition of the story is an entire success and there’s no way around how some elements of the story are troubling—none more infuriating than the ending, which seems to end on a dark note without delivering satisfaction. Blancanieves remains best appreciated by those who like a bit of strangeness—you know who you are.

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