This week in my movie class, we saw a silent film from Spain, “Blancanieves” (“Snow White”), inspired by fairytales from The Brothers Grimm.
When an orphaned young woman is adopted by a group of dwarves, they discover that she is a skilled bullfighter – but will her fame turn into her ultimate downfall?
In the Spain of the early 20th century, Carmen is born during a calamitous time – her mother (after whom she has been named) perishes during childbirth and on the same day, her father Antonio is severely gored as multitudes watch his latest bullfighting display at the coliseum in Seville. Upon discharge from the hospital, Antonio finds himself permanently wheelchair-bound and makes the ill-fated decision to marry Encarna, the gold-digging nurse who cared for him during his extended stay.
With an incapacitated father and an indifferent stepmother, Carmen is sent to live with her grandmother, who raises her. But shortly after her First Holy Communion, the grandmother dies and the little girl is then whisked off to an immense mansion where a cruel woman forces her to live in the basement and perform demeaning and exhausting manual labor. What Carmen doesn’t yet know – but eventually comes to learn – is that this evil woman is Encarna, her stepmother, and that her quadriplegic father lives upstairs, where she is forbidden to roam.
Accidentally discovering her father on the second floor one afternoon, a delighted Carmen instantly bonds with him and he teaches her some of his bullfighting techniques. But as Carmen grows to be a woman and her father suspiciously dies, she is forced from the mansion, narrowly escaping to the woods, where an attempt on her life is made. Unconscious, Carmen is found by a dwarf, who returns her to his colleagues – a group of fellow dwarves who travel Spain as a troupe of bullfighters. When she displays her own bullfighting skills, Carmen quickly becomes their star performer and gains nationwide notoriety. But once Encarna becomes aware of Carmen’s fame, will she be able to succeed in her plot to do in the young woman whose mere existence seems to forever torment her?
“Blancanieves” is a film that has won many awards both at film festivals and at competitions in Europe; as a silent movie shot in black and white, comparisons with Oscar-winner “The Artist” are inevitable. There is no denying that writer-director Pablo Berger’s motion picture takes a rather clever twist on the legendary Grimms’ fairytale of “Snow White”. Likewise, it is also clear from the way that “Blancanieves” is shot, edited and scored that the filmmaker has a genuine affection for silent film classics – it is, quite simply, a beautiful film to watch.
Despite the critical kudos and lauds from award ceremonies and film festivals, I found some issues with “Blancanieves”, mainly concerning its story structure. While visually stunning, the real story here – Carmen as bullfighter – takes an unnecessarily long time to unfold and is given considerably short shrift with respect to screen time; I would estimate that this aspect of the movie isn’t introduced until approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through. Much of the extended setup becomes rather boring after some time as the viewer is led to believe the gist of the motion picture will involve one thing before taking a rather drastic detour.
Another problem I had with the story structure was that the resolution of the film actually seems to take off onto another story – the ending of which is either suggesting a sequel or at the very least a somewhat ambiguous conclusion which may arguably be open to interpretation. Keep in mind that this is not exactly an overly long movie -- “Blancanieves” is well under two hours, so the fact that I found its second act to be dragging along a bit is not a terribly good sign.