Apparently inspired by a photograph of bullfighting dwarves writer/director Pablo Berger saw in a Spanish magazine, Blancanieves is a lovingly crafted tribute to the Brother’s Grimm fable Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Set in an opulent 1920s Andalusia, Blancanieves is a harsh tale of a celebrated bullfighter horribly gored and the horrible fate that follows.
The story of Snow White is widely recognised (so there should be no spoilers), but not like this. Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is the hero of Seville; a brave bullfighter with skill, adoration and good looks. His wife Carmen (Inma Cuesta) is a beautiful dancer and the envy of every woman in town. She is also heavily pregnant and worried for her husband during one of his most terrifying fights. When a nosey photographer spooks the Bull, Antonio is horribly gored and Carmen goes into early labour. The birth kills her but their daughter, Carmencita, is healthy and strong. Antonio cannot bear to look at her after the loss of his wife and thus the scheming of evil nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdú) begins. When Carmencita’s grandmother and sole guardian succumbs to a heart attack, Carmencita is shipped off to live the life of a slave in her estranged fathers lavish mansion, where his new wife Encarna rules the roost.
Where are the Dwarves and poison apples you may be saying? That part of the story comes later and is a quirky surprise. The film is jaunty and sweet and beautifully shot. Berger wanted to make a love letter to silent European Cinema, completely with lavish costumes, extravagant scenery and wildly over the top characters. He didn’t count on The Artist coming out and taking over the world when he had just finished storyboarding Blancanieves back in 2011, and although the high concept of the film was thus lost, it is no less charming and funny.
Verdú is superb as the evil step mother, draped in Daisy Buchanan worthy assortment of 1920s garb, lavishing in fetishes and expensive part times while her husband sits immobile in a chair in the corner. Young Carmencita (Sofía Oria) is absolutely adorable and one to watch in the future of Spanish film.
A macabre and garish (I say this as a compliment) take on a classic tale which is at once heart-warming and heartbreaking.
Blancanieves is in Australian cinemas from 24 October through Rialto Distribution.