May 25, 2015


New wrinkles emerge in familiar tale


It turns out, in 2012, there were three major movies based on the story of Snow White.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the kinkiest evil stepmother of them all? Why it's you, Maribel Verdú.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the kinkiest evil stepmother of them all? Why it's you, Maribel Verdú.

Apart from Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, a version from Spain, Blancanieves, took the greatest liberty with the Brothers Grimm source material, both in terms of narrative and style.

Evidently inspired by the success of the French film The Artist, director Pablo Berger decided to do his own homage to the silent films of the 1920s, transposing Snow White to a black-and-white silent melodrama.

Set in 1920s Andalusia, the story does not begin with a king but the country's most fearless matador, Antonio Villarta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a bullfighter struck down and rendered quadriplegic in his prime, just as his flamenco-dancing wife is about to give birth to a daughter.

When his wife dies in childbirth, the distraught Antonio makes the mistake of marrying his nurse, the wicked Encarna (Maribel Verdú), who first exiles young Carmen to the care of her loving grandmother. Later, she brings the girl to the palatial estate, where she finally meets her father, but is kept under Encarna's thumb as a lowly servant.

Encarna attempts to have Carmen (Macarena García) murdered, but the girl survives the attempt, only to emerge with amnesia and in the care of a troupe of travelling dwarves, whose show involves bullfighting. Carmen, a natural talent, emerges the star of the show, which draws the attention of the ever-evil Encarna.

As with The Artist, the black-and-white, silent pastiche is nothing new here in the land of Guy Maddin. But director Berger makes the most of this exercise in purely visual storytelling with some striking old-school imagery and some unexpected wrinkles in the familiar tale, including the wicked stepmother's kinky proclivities and, instead of a handsome prince, a handsome dwarf.

The ending, too, is an unusual departure from the Disneyfied happy ending.

Garca is a lovely young actress, to be certain, but it's clear Berger's heart belongs to the wicked stepmother, given Verd�'s perverse fun with the role.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2013 D8

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