Blancanieves (M) 4 stars
Macarena Garcia, Maribel Verdu, Angela Molina
DIRECTOR PABLO BERGER
REVIEW MARK NAGLAZAS
You’ll like this if you liked The Artist, the films of fellow Spaniards Carlos Saura (Carmen, Blood Wedding) and Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, The Skin I Live In).
Blancanieves is on at the Somerville Auditorium each day at 7.30pm until Sunday. It then moves to Joondalup Pines from March 26-31.
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius' best picture Oscar winner from last year, delighted us because of the accuracy with which it mimicked the look and style of Hollywood movies in the pre-talkies era. We were moved by its innocence, its naivety.
Spanish director Pablo Berger has also plunged into cinema's early history for Blancanieves, shooting in black and white and without sound for this Andalusia- meets-Gothic horror version of Snow White, replete with flamenco, bullfighting and a creepy house.
However, that's where the similarities with The Artist end. Berger takes a much more freewheeling approach in his silent-movie homage, using a range of techniques and an aspect ratio (wide screen instead of the box-like Academy format) which did not enter movies until decades later.
It takes a few moments to get used to the madcap mix of styles - it is a silent movie filtered through modern sensibility, or vice versa - but once you get into the groove it wins you over, immersing you into such an exhilarating range of cultural references it leaves your head spinning.
The tale begins at a bullfight in Seville in the 1920s with celebrated matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) entering the ring and, before taking on the bull, paying homage to his pregnant wife, Carmen (Inma Cuesta).
However, a smile in the direction of his wife causes Antonio to lose concentration and he's savagely gored, leaving him hovering between life and death and at the mercy of rapacious theatre nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Carmen then goes into premature labour. The child, Carmencita, survives but her mother dies, allowing the ambitious Encarna to swoop on the once-great bullfighter, now a quadriplegic, and free to run the grand home as she pleases, which includes treating Carmencita like the help instead of an heiress.
Eventually, the cruel, narcissistic Encarna tires of the threat posed by Carmencita (Macarena Garcia) who manages to forge a bond with her damaged father and receive instruction in the art of bullfighting, and she orders one of her lackeys to dispense with the youngster.
Of course, she manages to survive but without her memory and with one skill intact - her ability with the cape and the sword.
There have been several mega-budget Hollywood Snow Whites recently (Mirror, Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman) but Blancanieves leaves them in the dust of Spain's arid south because it taps into the emotion of a young woman separated from her father but connected by blood and shared cultural heritage.
Indeed, Berger amps up the emotions so high that it evokes the melodramas-cum-horror stories of fellow Spaniard Pedro Almodovar, in particular his masterpiece Talk to Her, which also involved a female bullfighter, a comatosed beauty, a dwarfish man watching over her and its own black-and-white and silent homage to early cinema.
And, like an Almodovar movie, Blancanieves is most ravishing and deeply moving when at its most melodramatic and over the top (the cinematography and flamenco- inflected score are breathtaking), creating a strangely intoxicating mood that feels at once ancient and shockingly modern.And at its heart is the stunning Garcia, the kind of wonderfully expressive beauty who would have thrived in silent cinema. See Garcia glow during the climactic bullfight finale and you might join the diminishing band of Spaniards fighting to retain this most brutal of spectacles.
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