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Review: A Bullfighting Snow White in ‘Blancanieves’


Blancanieves harkens back to one of the most prolific, beautiful, and, sadly, underrated eras of Hollywood: the silent era.

Blancanieves is, at its core, a dark, dramatic interpretation of the tale of Snow White. Not shying away from any of the more sinister themes in “Snow White” (barring the attempted cannibalism, which is still too extreme apparently), the film does a great job of emotionally investing the audience with the characters of the film right in the opening sequence.

We are introduced to a handsome and rich matador, who thrills the crowd with theatric moves. His beautiful (and visibly pregnant) wife in the audience cheers him on. It all very quickly goes south from there. The matador is distracted for one second from the flash of a photographer’s camera, and the bull attacks him; the wife goes into shock at seeing her husband gorged and goes into labor. The mother dies and the matador, a quadriplegic after the accident, is so stricken with grief that he refuses to see his newborn child (Snow White), wanting nothing to do with her.

Blancanieves is taken in by the grandmother until she too, passes away with a stroke. She then goes to the only remaining relative, the evil stepmother, whom we are told is a nurse that married the paralyzed matador in order to steal his money.

The story progresses in the conventional matter then, but in all the ways that you never wanted to see. Snow White, à la Walt Disney style, only briefly discusses the stepmother’s evil actions against Snow White. This film does not shy away from any of the implied child abuse, displaying quite explicitly the stepmother forcing her, and sometimes even going so far as to physically abuse her into doing chores, and making her sleep in the frigid, rat-infested basement. The story doesn’t baby the audience in any sort, and the stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú) does a fantastic job of making the audience despise her.

Encarna sends the now teenaged Snow White into the forest for the “huntsman” (in this adaptation, a loyal servant to Encarna) to kill her. Snow White escapes, but drowns in the river, only to be resuscitated hours later by a travelling circus troupe, representing the dwarves. Upon discovering her preternatural ability to bullfight (no doubt inherited from her father), the story takes a lighter turn, as one of the dwarves falls in love with her.

A stunning film, the aspect of Blancanieves that impressed me the most was the sound design. We never realize how much of a film is dialogue until we are forced to watch one without. However, as a film major, I’ve often been told that the best films should be able to be understood without sound, because as an artistic medium, film is meant to be visual. The music in the film does a great job of substituting as the dialogue – the sonorous orchestral arrangement helps build the tension perfectly throughout the film, and adds color to the film.

Overall, I was surprisingly taken with Blancanieves, and would recommend it to anyone who loves a Grimmer (pun intended) take on the classic fairy tales.

four stars

Cast: Macarena García, Jinson Añazco, Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho
Director: Pablo Berger
Runtime: 104 minutes
Genre: Drama, Fantasy