Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
April 25, 2013
*** (out of four)
If your Spanish is rusty, yes, that title translates to “Snow White.”
Yet even if you raise your hand when someone asks, “Who’s tired of the recent wave of reimagined fairy tales?”—I raise both of mine—there’s reason “Blancanieves” doesn’t land on the pile of tired revamps along with “Red Riding Hood,” “Mirror Mirror” and “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
Right off the bat, of course, this Spanish-language spin on the brothers Grimm’s fairy tale arrives silently, in black and white, perhaps so people whose only silent/black-and-white viewing experience is “The Artist” don’t have to go backward in film history to see another one. (Your loss.)
Writer-director Pablo Berger’s stylistic choice benefits this delicate film, both because it sets “Blancanieves” apart and because the form allows Berger to streamline the story’s base emotions. Transposing the saga of evil stepmothers and poison apples to the world of professional bullfighting (!), the film follows long-tormented Carmen (played as an adult by Macarena Garcia), whose mother dies in childbirth. This happens shortly after Carmen’s matador father (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) lands on the losing end of a bull’s horns and later succumbs to the wiles of a nurse (Maribel Verdu of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” always coming between people!) who cares for her new husband’s riches, not his baby daughter without a mother.
Growing up, Carmen must do objectionable chores such shoveling coal, and her stepmother threatens to kill Carmen’s pet rooster Pepe if the girl disobeys. (“Do you like Pepe-ry chicken?” the cruel woman asks.) Later, after surviving an attempt on her life but losing her memory, Carmen holes up with six little people, whose absence of a seventh dwarf causes a funny error on promotional materials for their bullfighting act. As opposed to the way films such as “Mirror Mirror” treat the dwarves as comic relief with no valid emotions, “Blancanieves” recognizes the real love that can grow when a person of any size discovers another with a kind heart.
“Blancanieves” may not have much depth to its characters or particular surprise, but its lovely depiction of family’s ability to harm and mend has the flair of flamenco and the sorrow of opera.
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