Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
Nick Jobe and I trade lists of films now and again; I’ve got one of Nick’s coming up in a little more than a week, matter of fact. Because of this, I tend to have my eye out for films that I suspect he hasn’t seen and that I like. Nick’s got a thing for fantasy and fairy tales, which meant going into Blancanieves, a modern silent retelling of the Snow White story was particularly interesting for me. I figured if it was good enough to recommend, I’d give this to Nick on his next list.
I haven’t quite made up my mind on it in terms of that recommendation for Nick. Blancanieves has a great deal going for it in addition to its retelling of a classic fairy tale brought forward to the modern era. There are problems, though, and most unfortunately, the bulk of the problems come in the last 10 minutes. When a good film shits the bed at the end, it ends up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Blancanieves doesn’t quite go that far, but what should be a resolution for the audience ends up being completely unfulfilled all the way around. This means we’re likely going to get to some spoilers here before the end.
Since the story is being updated, albeit to the 1920s, we’re not dealing with kings, queens, and princesses here. Instead, we begin with the great Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), greatest toreador in Spain. As the film opens, Villalta is planning a massive exhibition, fighting six bulls on the same day. In the audience is his wife Carmen (Inma Cuesta), pregnant with their first child. The flash of a photographer’s camera distracts Villalta on his last bull and he is severely injured, ending up paralyzed. That same day, Carmen gives birth do their daughter, but dies in the process.
Young Carmencita (Sofia Oria) is raised by her grandmother (Angela Molina) while Villalta marries his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdu), most definitely at her insistence. There’s no hiding the fact that Encarna is a wicked stepmother-to-be. She is concerned for her own wealth, glamour, and happiness, shunting her wealthy husband off to a room in his house. When the grandmother dies (on Carmencita’s day of first communion—the kid can’t catch a break), she is forced to move in with her paralyzed father and evil stepmother, who treats her like a servant and enacts some truly terrible emotional torture on her in the process. Eventually, Carmencita discovers her father and the two bond. He also teaches her how to fight bulls.
Of course, eventually he dies, and at this juncture, Encarna sends the now-grown Carmen off for flowers for her father’s grave. This is actually a pretext to have her chauffeur/lover (Pere Ponce) kill Carmen to keep her out of the picture. He fails (of course), and Carmen (now played by Macarena Garcia) is discovered by a band of six bullfighting dwarves. She has lost her memory, but demonstrates her skill as a bullfighter. They dub her “Blancanieves” (a literal translation of “Snow White”) and change the name of their act.
And, of course, there’s a big moment where Carmen/Blancanieves fights a bull in front of a massive crowd. And, of course, Encarna has poisoned an apple. And, of course, Blancanieves eats the poisoned apple. And this is where the film falls apart. Skip a bit if you don’t want to see why:
*** DON’T EAT THAT APPLE! ***
So what happens? Well, the dwarves go after Encarna, of course, and manage to trap her and get her trampled by a bull. But we don’t get to see it. We see only her against a wall and the shadow of a bull closing in on her, but there’s no payoff. Second, when the film ends, Blancanieves is still in the glass coffin despite her cobbled love interest, the dwarf Rafita (Sergio Dorado) kissing her. No happy ending for a fairy tale? For shame!
This doesn’t even mention the moment when Blancanieves signs a lifetime contract with a promoter, and based on his expression, it’s not one that benefits her in any way. For some reason, we’re told she is illiterate, which is ridiculous for a film that takes place in the 1920s. Her grandmother didn’t teach her how to read? Those hours she spent with her father and it never came up? I find that difficult to believe.
***OH, GO AHEAD AND HAVE A BITE***
While the ending cheeses me off, there are some strong positives with Blancanieves. Primary among these is Macarena Garcia herself. Garcia is atomically beautiful, and no, that’s not a typo. I mean that the atoms that make up her cells have beauty as a main component instead of carbon. I like how the tale has been modernized here, and the shift into bullfighting is an interesting one. I like how nicely this mimics Freaks at the end.
It’s worth noting as well that some sympathy needs to go to Pablo Berger. Berger was set to work on principle photography and had the film completely storyboarded when The Artist came out, blindsiding everyone. Because of this, Blancanieves looks derivative when it was specifically designed to be fresh and new. That said, there’s no getting over the fact that The Artist beat Blancanieves to the punch.
As for recommending this to Nick? We’ll see in a couple of months when I have to make him a new list.
Why to watch Blancanieves: A modern retelling of a classic story.
Why not to watch: Can we be done with the retro-silent thing now?