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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 03.28.13] Spain drama arthouse

At a time when bigger, louder and more expensive seems better, it was somewhat surprising to see the success of Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, but perhaps it was the movie's anti modern approach that made it such a huge success both critically and commercially. Yet while some believed that perhaps Hazanavicius' movie might result in a number of other new silent movies, ushering in a revival of the genre, others saw the truth in the difficulty of making that happen. Silent film is a thing of the past, a style which was replaced just as soon as other options were available and though the silent film period resulted in a number of classics that still play well and though it can be fun to see a new filmmaker playing with old style (including old editing techniques), there's no reason to revive the silent movie.

What does that mean for Pablo Berger's Blancanieves? Will people groan at the thought of seeing another silent film? I certainly hope not or they're going to be missing out on a great bit of entertainment.

Even more so than Hazanavicius' movie, Blancanieves feels like something out of time. Part of it is the setting, the events unfold in 1920's Spain, but also the story itself which re-envisions the Brothers Grimm classic of Snow White as the story of a young woman named Carmen who is forced out by her evil stepmother after the death of her father. Carmen, the daughter of a legendary bull fighter and a flamenco star, is beautiful, talented and naive and after her escape she finds herself among a group of dwarf bullfighters before it is discovered that she is a great talent behind the cape. A series of events leads Carmen back to Seville where she is to have her great debut, a debut that doesn't end well.

Macarena Garcia is wonderful as the wide eyed young Carmen, so sweet and innocent that she sees no malice in others even after her attempted murder, but the real star of the show is the stunning Maribel Verdu in the role of the evil step mother Encarna. She's handed the role of playing both outwardly gracious and kind while when the cameras disappear, she's the embodiment of evil. It's a difficult task, especially without speaking and she is more than up to the role, delivering a notable and unforgettable performance.

Cinematographer Kiko de la Rica, a recent regular of Alex de la Iglesia, beautifully captures the performances and also the settings which give Blancanieves the feel of a storybook tale. Though there's nothing supernatural, Berger's film is grounded in reality, there's something grand and almost magical about the movie and that sense of wonder remains even when the story gets dark, and it does play in some pretty dark territory; it's not every day you see a Snow White story that incorporates S & M.

Alfonso de Vilallonga score brings the story together, brilliantly capturing the onscreen action with various types of Spanish music. De Vilallonga's score is surprisingly subtle, capturing even the smallest shifts in emotion and though it could easily have traversed into bombastic, particularly in the bullfight sequences of which there are a few, I was never taken out of the story by it but rather drawn in.

Blancanieves is wonderful, a beautifully adapted story which explores themes of family, sacrifice and the perils of being self obsessed but it's not a movie that plays well for very young children, even if there are moments which bubble with youthful glee. Unless you're ready to answer a few questions, including why there's a man pretending to be a dog and why Carmen doesn't live happily ever after, you'll want to consider making this an adult night out.

Blancanieves opens in New York and at the Sundance Sunset in West Hollywood and Laemmle's Royal in West LA on Friday, March 29.

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