out of Five
Running time: 104
Hugely entertaining, amusingly gothic silent movie pastiche with imaginative direction, a darkly funny script, terrific characters and the best animal performance you'll see all year. Move over, Uggie, Pepe the Cockerel has arrived.
What's it all about?
Directed by Pablo Berger, Blancanieves is a Spanish silent film pastiche in the style of The Artist that updates the story of Snow White to 1920s Spain. It begins with famous matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) being gored in the bullring, which causes his saintly wife Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) to go into labour and die in childbirth.
His career ended, Villalta marries his scheming nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdu), who becomes wicked stepmother to young Blancanieves (Sofia Oria), who has only her scene-stealing pet cockerel Pepe (a shoo-in for best animal performance of the year) for company. However, when her father dies under mysterious circumstances, Blancanieves (now played by Macarena Garcia) runs away from Encarna and falls in with seven bullfighting dwarves, whereupon she learns their craft and determines to follow in her father's footsteps.
Maribel Verdu is deliciously evil as Encarna, vamping it up like there's no tomorrow and clearly having a whale of a time in the process; needless to say, she's also supremely sexy with it, strutting about in a variety of saucy costumes and taking the mistress-servant relationship a little further than strictly necessary. Macarena Garcia (who deservedly shared the Best Actress prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival) is equally good as Blancanieves, delivering a feisty, likeable performance that's utterly charming, while there's strong support from all seven dwarves.
The excellent script blends comedy, melodrama and tragedy, stirring in a suitably dark, gothic vibe that would make the Brothers Grimm smile in their graves; the ending is particularly strong in this respect. It's also beautifully shot, courtesy of Kiko de la Rica's stunning black and white photography.
On top of that, the production design work is impeccable and there's a wonderful silent movie-style score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. It's worth noting that director Pablo Berger spent ten years on Blancanieves (presumably the success of The Artist played at least a small part in its eventual journey to the screen) and film really feels like a labour of love.
Impressively directed and beautifully shot, Blancanieves is a hugely entertaining silent movie pastiche that's by turns laugh-out-loud funny, powerfully moving, surprisingly dark and occasionally shocking. Highly recommended.