- Blancanieves dir. by Pablo Berger
Events often occur in groups of threes in fairy tales. The same pattern seems to have occurred in contemporary fairy-tale films. The Grimm brothers’ “Snow White” has been adapted in recent years into three feature-length films: Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror (2012), Rupert Sanders’s Snow White and the [End Page 165] Huntsman (2012), and Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves (2013). Although Berger’s Blancanieves lacks the American star power of Mirror Mirror, which featured Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane, or the elaborate special effects of Snow White and the Huntsman, Berger’s film is the most successful and experimental of the three films. As is often the case in fairy tales, the third time is the charm.
Shot in black and white, Blancanieves avoids the trend of lavish special effects or 3D technology found in many recent contemporary films. Like Michel Hazanvicius’s popular 2011 French film The Artist, which earned the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012, Berger has chosen to frame his fairy tale as a modern silent film that focuses on strong acting and a clever but appropriate reimagining of a well-known fairy tale. Blancanieves is set in the austere landscape of 1920s Spain. Named after the title character of Georges Bizet’s opera, Berger’s film transforms “Snow White” into a moody melodrama. The striking cinematography of the Iberian Peninsula is supported by a haunting score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. The many music and dance scenes in Blancanieves—both flamenco and the stylized movements of the bullfight—emphasize the rhythms and sensuality of the film.
The protagonist, Carmen (played as a child by Sofia Oria and as a young woman by Macareena Garcia) is the daughter of a famous bullfighter and a flamenco dancer. Her father (Daniel Giminez Cacho) is distracted while performing in the bullring and is deeply gored before a stadium of horrified onlookers. His accident causes the premature birth of his daughter and the death of his wife in childbirth. Encarna (Maribel Verdu) is an ambitious and greedy nurse who cares for the paralyzed matador and quickly becomes Carmen’s new stepmother. Only interested in her husband’s wealth, Encarna isolates the once famous bullfighter from his family. She imprisons him in his wheelchair and begins to mistreat her young stepdaughter. When Encarna kills her father and plots to eliminate Carmen, the young woman manages to escape and is taken in by a traveling troupe of dwarfs who stage bullfights. Although Carmen escapes death, she suffers amnesia and does not know who she is and so is renamed Blancanieves, or Snow White, by the dwarfs. Using the bullfighting skills taught to her by her father, Blancanieves becomes a successful female bullfighter. As a popular matador, she regains her memory and identity when she performs in the ring where her father met his defeat at the opening of the film. But a moment after her professional triumph and reclamation of her identity, her stepmother, in disguise, offers her the poisoned apple.
Berger has said that he was inspired to create his film after seeing photographs of bullfighting dwarfs that he found in Cristina Garcia Redero’s photography collection Espana Occulta/Hidden Spain (1999); he has also acknowledged direct allusions to Tod Browning’s creepy 1932 film, Freaks. Berger’s adaptation of “Snow White” is a sometimes disturbing film that is intended for a more [End Page 166] mature audience of teens and adults rather than the child-friendly film adaptations, such as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Just as he updates and makes this Snow White a far more active female protagonist who achieves recognition based on her skills rather than her beauty, the director also provides an ambiguous conclusion to the film that undercuts the concept of the happy ending. Blancanieves falls into a paralyzed state, and there is no handsome prince to wake her from her spell. Instead, she becomes a sideshow attraction in a traveling circus, where individuals pay...