If The Artist is a love letter to the heyday of Hollywood silent cinema, then Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves (the Spanish name for ‘Snow White’) is an homage to sumptuous European silent melodrama. Relocating the Grimm fairy tale to 1920s Spain and working in atmospheric black and white, Berger takes full advantage of the silent film’s expressive potential.
Young Carmen (played as a child by Sofía Oria, and later by Macarena García) is the daughter of once-renowned matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), crippled in the ring and grieving for his wife, who died during childbirth. We are given a swift and fiery account of Carmen’s upbringing by her grandmother (Ángela Molina), her torment at the hands of her tyrannical stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú) and her secret schooling in the art of bullfighting. Carmen escapes Encarna’s custody and joins a travelling troupe of bullfighting dwarves, eventually rising to fame under the stage name ‘Blancanieves’.
Borne along by Alfonso de Vilallonga’s lush, vigorous score, Berger’s darkly sketched fantasia weaves its exotic spin on this much-told tale. With its enthralling musical sequences, Blancanieves plunges us into a fantastical realm where the chatter of voices is replaced by the intoxicating sounds of the soul.
Diana Sanchez, Toronto International Film Festival