Saturday, April 27, 2013

Film Review: Blancanieves

"Blancanieves"  **** (out of ****)

I never thought I'd live to see it, but, we have had two silent movies released theatrically in the past two years.

The first silent film to come our way was "The Artist" (2011, which I have reviewed), the French film directed by Michel Hazanavicius. It won the Academy Award for "best picture" and Hazanavicius "best director". It was a great thrill for me to be able to watch that movie in a theatre as the film was a wonderful throwback to an era of Hollywood filmmaking which I enjoy most (it made my "top ten" list in 2011). And now here we are with the Spanish film directed by Pablo Berger, "Blancanieves" (2013). It is the best film I have seen so far this year. A masterpiece!

Why are we getting silent movies in 2013? I'm sure there are people who are wondering the same thing. Movies have been "talking" since 1927. Audiences want "talking pictures". We are used to them. To make a silent film, is to take a giant step backwards. But, aside from technology, why is this so? What if certain movies simply lend themselves to the tradition of silent movies? I'm not opposed to having more silent films released in our "modern age". The more the merrier I say.

To make a silent movie is to go back to the fundamentals of filmmaking. Movies are about images. Cinema is a visual medium. Unlike music or books, the audience is actually capable of seeing images. Yes, when you read a book you are creating your own images but with cinema we are seeing someone else's vision, and if the movie is any good, we take delight in their vision.

When I was a student at Columbia College in Chicago, we were required to make movies. They had to be black&white, silent and one reel long. Everyone grumbled. But the instructors wanted us to be able to tell a story visually. To create images which would strike the viewer.

"Blancanieves" is undoubtedly going to be compared to "The Artist", which was perhaps the first silent film several modern "movie critics" have seen. Because of that comparison the "gimmick" of a modern day silent film isn't as fresh. And because "The Artist" won the Academy Award for "best picture" several are going to say "Blancanieves" fails in comparison. Don't listen to such non-sense! Both "The Artist" and "Blancanieves" are masterpieces. There is no need to compare the films. Yes, they are both silent. But they have nothing else in common. Would you compare "Metropolis" (1927) to the Harold Lloyd comedy "The Freshmen" (1925)? Why not? They are both silent movies. Would you compare "The Godfather" (1972) to "The King's Speech" (2010)? Why not? Both are "talking pictures".

What is so wonderful about "Blancanieves" is it doesn't use silent film as a gimmick. This is straightforward storytelling. First and foremost "Blancanieves" has a story to tell. It chooses to tell it silently but it doesn't exploit this technique for laughs or cheap sentiment. It takes its story serious. That story is an adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' "Snow White". Only this time the story is set in Seville and deals with bullfighting.

We meet Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) a famous and well respected bullfighter. His wife, Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta), is a singer and dancer. She is expecting a child. Antonio is injured by a bull. On this day, Carmen dies while giving birth to her daughter. Antonio wants nothing to do with the child, since it reminds me of his wife. So the child's grandmother (Angela Molina) takes care of her. Meanwhile, Antonio's nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdu) smells an opportunity to chance to take advantage of the situation. Antonio is famous and wealthy. If Encarna marries him, she will be able to live on easy street.

I don't want to reveal more of the plot, but, if you are familiar with the Snow White story you can probably guess what happens next and who is what character in this adaptation.

This is director Berger's second film. His first was "Torremolinos 73" (2003). The story of a middle-class couple which become porn stars. Nothing about that movie would have made me guess Berger had it in him to direct a film of such skill. This is truly accomplished filmmaking. The cinematography, the acting, the musical score, everything adds a level of depth to the story. It is simply a beautiful movie to look at.

Will audiences flock to see this film in the same way they did "The Artist"? Who knows. I would imagine those that liked "The Artist" may want to see this movie. Though the marketing isn't the same. "Blancanieves" is going under the radar. Several movie critics haven't even reviewed it in the newspapers. Audiences are going to have to seek this movie out but that is difficult when you don't know it exist.

Already the movie has enjoyed some critical success. It won several prizes at the Goya Awards and the Cinema Writers Circle Awards.

It is interesting that this is the third Snow White adaptation we have had in the past year. We had "Snow White and the Huntsmen" (2012) and "Mirror Mirror" (2012) last year. "Blancanieves" however is the best of the modern tellings of this story. I hope audiences are able to find this movie. It is one of the best films of the year!