We've seen or read innumerable interpretations of Snow White. That rosy-lipped gal's story is one of the most told and retold tales in history. But Spanish writer/director Pablo Berger does the unthinkable in bringing a fresh version to the screen with last year's Blancanieves, a black and white, silent film in which our fair maiden is a bullfighter.
Antonio Villalta is the celebrated matador of Spain, a wealthy and handsome showman with a beautiful wife, the loving Carmen, who is to be the mother of his child. During one corrida, Antonio loses control of the bull and is trampled. Carmen's shock brings her into a difficult labor. Antonio survives, paralyzed from the neck down. Carmen does not live, but she is survived by her infant daughter (who has skin white as snow, lips red as blood and hair black as ebony - you might have heard of her?). Antonio, unable to care for himself and his daughter, marries the wickedly beautiful nurse who tends to him, Encarna (Maribel Verdú of Y Tu Mamá También and Pan's Labyrinth).
A lot happens before we get to the meat of the story, the part we all know. Little Carmencita first lives a picturesque childhood with her loving abuela (and overwhelmingly adorable pet chicken named Pepe) before moving in with her evil stepmother and then fleeing to the forest, where she encounters six - not seven - bullfighting dwarfs. As Carmencita, now called Blancanieves by her diminutive friends, grows in popularity as a torera, Encarna plots a diabolical plan. You know the one, with the apple.
Much surprises in Blancanieves, from the the unlikely Prince Charming to the new happily ever after. The film, a tribute to the silent Spanish pictures of the 1920s, manages to feel cozily nostalgic and brand new all at once. The performances are wonderful, especially Verdú's scene-scarfing turn as Encarta and Macarena Garcia as the wide-eyed fairy tale princess who challenges bulls and dances flamenco.
But the lovely actresses and familiar story of Blancanieves are nothing to its stunning cinematography. This film is simply gorgeous, pure beauty on film, a vision that leaves you breathless and reeling. Light and shadow have never felt so rich, so full of depth. Berger updates the editing with kaleidoscope flashes set to flamenco guitar and expansive orchestral flourishes from Alfonso de Vilallonga. You will never miss dialogue in this silent film. Soon, you won't even notice its absence.
Blancanieves feels lasting, indelible. Images from this graceful portrait will stay with you, haunting you forever in the loveliest way possible.