Black and white, silent, bold and beautiful, this Spanish reimagining of a famous fairy tale is sure to be among the most exhilarating and purely cinematic experiences of your movie year.
The title is the Spanish word for Snow White and the opening credits says it is "inspired by" that Grimm brothers fairy tale though there are nods to Cinderella and Red Riding Hood too.
But the story has an arc all its own, and it's pure Spanish: a famous matador, Antonio Villalta (Gimenez Cacho), meets with double tragedy in the opening reel when he is paralysed by an injury in the bullring and loses his wife in childbirth.
His daughter, Carmen, survives and is raised by her grandmother but when the old woman dies, the young girl is sent to be raised by his father's new wife, Encarna (Verdu, from Y Tu Mama Tambien). The tetraplegic's erstwhile nurse, Encarna is a gold-digging schemer and wicked stepmother in the grand tradition. She bans Carmen from the first floor, where her father is confined, and sets her to menial labour.
Carmen, first played with wide-eyed charm by Sofia Oria, grows into a beautiful young woman (Garcia) and if you paid attention during bedtime stories, you will have a fair idea of what's in store. There are dwarves, all right, though they are bullfighting dwarves of course, but there are plenty of other twists that the Grimm fellows never thought of.
Director Berger, who was inspired by an old story of bullfighting dwarves, conceived the film as a tribute to the silent era and was reportedly devastated when The Artist gazumped his high concept and went on to win the best picture Oscar. For my money this is the better film, because it lacks the self-mocking wink that The Artist was always tipping the audience; it's in deadly earnest every step of the way.
Blancanieves is over-the-top melodrama but it has subtle and tender touches as well. Magnificently shot by Kiko de la Rica, it is an enthralling and engrossing experience and a hell of a lot of fun.
Content warning: it may have started as a fairy tale, but heed the censor's warning. Definitely not for kids who are unfamiliar with sadomasochistic sex and chicken slaughter.
Cast: Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Maribel Verdu, Sofia Oria, Macarena Garcia
Director: Pablo Berger
Running time: 104 mins
Rating: M (adult themes)
Verdict: Snow White for adults and film lovers.