TIFF 2012 Review: Blancanieves
I saw Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves and it left me speechless. I’m apparently not the only one blown away by this movie. Just this morning Blancanieves was shortlisted to represent Spain at the next Oscars. Roger Ebert has already suggested the movie might just be a contender for the TIFF’s coveted Blackberry People’s Choice award. After seeing the film, I’m here to tell you the hype doesn’t even come close to the experience of watching this powerful, rhythmical, and enchanting movie.Silent film fans have the right to be excited now, not just because it’s silent, but because it’s brilliant.
Silent film fans had a moment in the sun last year with The Artist and that film’s Oscar win felt like a validation of sorts. As exciting as The Artist was, it wasn’t a silent film, really. It was a love letter to the silent era. It was a wink and a nod at silent films. It reminded us how charming and delightful both the silent movies and the silent stars were, but it was not a silent film. Blancanieves is a silent film, from a director who is passionate about the medium and really understands the power of silent cinema. For me personally, Blancanieves is also a kind of wish fulfillment. Often when I’m watching a classic from the silent era, any F.W. Murnau film say, I wonder what a master could do with current movie making technology. Now I know.
Blancanievesis a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale, set in 1920’s Seville. But this is no bedtime story. This film opens with famous, swaggering matador Antonio Villalta and his beautiful, pregnant wife. Villalta’s fame morphs into tragedy when he is paralyzed in the bull fighting ring and his wife dies in childbirth as doctors frantically try to save his life. The child, Carmen, survives and is consigned to the care of her grandmother. You can’t have a fairy-tale without a wicked step-mother and Villalta’s venal, gold-digging second wife Encarna suits the bill. Upon the death of the grandmother, Encarna adopts Carmen only to sentence her to the barn and a life of hard labor. Despite these conditions, young Carmen manages to sneak visits to her helpless father and forms a bond with him.
All is not well, however. Encarna murders Villalta and attempts to murder Carmen. After her escape, Carmen is rescued by a touring troupe of bull-fighting dwarves. With only a foggy memory of her previous life, Carmen is christened Blancanieves, Spanish for Snow White. She eventually becomes a bullfighter as well. When forced to face down a monster bull, Carmen’s memory returns and she emerges victorious in a dramatic scene that is both celebration of her birthright and an elegy for her father.
That’s the plot, but no synopsis can do justice to the experience of watching Blancanieves. Silent cinema at it’s most powerful has a hypnotic, dreamlike quality that blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy. Pablo Berger travels this interzone like he’s the original cartographer of it. The cinematography is astounding and delivered in a black and white so lush classic film fans will weep. The romantic score from Alfonso de Vilallonga is the perfect emotional complement to the action. The cast is pitch perfect. I believe The Artist introduced modern film-going audiences to the idea of a silent film. Now Pablo Berger is here with Blancanieves to demonstrate the full-blown, euphoric, and transportative experience of silent cinema in the hands of a master.
Special Note: As of 5 pm on Tuesday, September 11, tickets are still available to the third and final TIFF 2012 screening of Blancanieves. Go to tiff.net right now and get yours. Then remember to cast your vote for Blancanieves for the Blackberry People’s Choice Award.
Images from Blancanieves