Those looking for this year’s The Artist will not find it in Blancanieves, despite its description as “an homage to Europe’s Golden Age of silent film.” Like The Artist, it is shot movingly in black and white and set loosely in the 1920s to a compelling score. Unlike The Artist, it’s good.
This Spanish gothic rendition of Snow White is only Pablo Berger’s second film; his first, Torremolinos 73, made him a homeland hero. What better means to achieve second-language fame than silent film? Think about it. Audiences unhappy with the Hollywood endings of retold Grimms (like Snow White and the Huntsman, to name the obvious) will revel in this fantasy, realistic in its sorrows. Berger, like his rad forebear Luis Bunuel, marries poetry to film.
In Blancanieves, the stepmother is a flamenco dancer and the father is a bullfighter. So, too, are the dwarves his daughter meets. Carmen (our Snow White) joins them, becoming not only the fairest in the land but also the fiercest. That makes the film modern, not just magic.
More than a rabbit hole into the past, Blancanieves skips The Artist’s simpering nostalgia for film itself. There’s not much winkery either. It’s too fatal. Here “once upon a time” means “once upon a tragedy,” as it should.