Considering how many critics swooned over 2011's "The Artist", it's a surprise that "Blancanieves" hasn't received just as much attention. It obviously isn't as adorable (was "Snow White", even as a kids movie, not just a tad bit dark?), but as a homage to silent films, it is just as interesting. Berger makes the dead genre feel fresh again, not just some rinky dink imitation of style.
Translated, "Blancanieves" means "Snow White", and while right away you might be quick to picture an evil old hag with a crusty apple or seven happy-go-lucky dwarves, that isn't exactly the story "Blancanieves" tells. Rather than being a strict fantasy film, it takes elements of the story, throws them into 1920s Spain, and vamps it up.
This time around, the wicked stepmother is played by Maribel Verdu, with gleeful sexiness, and Snow White, whose true name is Carmen, is portrayed by Sofía Oria as a child and Macarena García as young woman, both of which possess a sort of earthy beauty only found in silent cinema.
Carmen's backstory is a tragic one: her mother (Inma Cuesta) died while giving childbirth, and her father (Daniel Giménez Cacho), once a famous bullfighter, is paralyzed due to being gorged. Since Carmen's mother's death, her father has since married the sadomasochistic Encarna (Verdu), who abuses both Carmen and her father.
Once Carmen is old enough, she runs away, and after an accident, is saved by seven dwarfed circus performers - they take her under their wing and she becomes a famous bullfighter just like her father. But Encarna isn't finished with Carmen just yet.
One can only imagine how delicious "Blancanieves" could be if it was more similar to the Disney version; that one screamed to be just a little bit more creepy, and as a silent movie it would have worked out with tasty results. But it's easy to let that idea go considering just how enjoyable "Blancanieves" is as a whole. It's beautifully shot, with gothic shadows, Spanish interiors, and dramatic close-ups, and the story is told in a way that unfolds like the best of fairy tales.
Berger clearly is an expert on silent movies, as he gracefully emulates the visual style and otherworldliness they offer. But he also makes the genre feel modern by using editing tricks that would be very difficult to capture in the '20s and adding in certain topics and ideas (such as Encarna's kinky sexual life) that could never have slipped past the censors.
The highest achievement though, is that never once during "Blancanieves" do you sit there with the idea of a "silent movie" in the back of your head: the story and the cinematography are both so entrancing that it is high class entertainment that also is a pure work of art. Berger, though not necessarily a veteran director, has outdone himself. He has taken the familiar fable of "Snow White", and has made it new, all over again.