often seems like the Academy’s rules for the best foreign language category are
obscure and arbitrarily applied.
Frankly, the only language spoken in Spain’s official submission is body
language. Yet, Pablo Berger’s silent
film qualified. In fairness, it is about
as Spanish as it gets, earning eighteen Goya nominations for combining the Snow
White fairy tale with the rich tradition of bullfighting. Unfortunately, Blancanieves (trailer
here) will not repeat The Artist’s Oscar success, failing to even reach the foreign
language shortlist. However, it should
still find considerable arthouse love when it opens this Friday in New York.
Villalta was a great matador, but one day he faced one bull too many. As the paralyzed Villalta lies upon the
operating table, his beloved sadly dies in child birth. Recognizing a ticket to the easy life, the
cold, calculating nurse Encarna sets her sites on the weakened widower. Yes, you could say she is an evil stepmother
to young Carmen. Initially raised by her
grandmother, Carmen is forced to become a servant on the Villalta estate after
the kindly old woman’s death. Though
forbidden to see her father, she starts paying furtive visits to the equally
miserable Villalta. Even confined to his
wheelchair, Villalta teaches her everything about the family business. It will be a useful skill when things come to
a head with Encarna.
from amnesia, Carmen falls in with an itinerant company of diminutive novelty
bullfighters. When her innate talent and
extensive training are revealed, the troupe is quickly redubbed “Blancanieves
and the Seven Dwarfs.” They seem to be
one dwarf short, but they are never sticklers for details in Spain. Obviously, the act is a hit, which perturbs
Encarna and you know what that means.
Blancanieves is the third
Snow White adaptation in about a year’s time and by far the best. Yet, it will draw far more comparisons to
Michel Hazanavicius’s Artist than
Kristen Stewart’s home-wrecking Huntsman. Without question, Berger is a much richer
visual stylist than the Oscar winning director.
On the other hand Hazanavicius’s elegantly light touch, flair for
physical comedy, and old fashioned romanticism are ultimately a tad more
satisfying. Nonetheless, Berger frames
some stunningly expressionistic tableaux and his transitions are a show unto
themselves. However, he embraces all of
the tragic heaviness of the Brothers Grimm and almost none of their macabre
cast is also quite strong (but again The
Artist’s ensemble would narrowly take the honors in a face-off). Daniel Giménez Cacho’s work as Villalta is
particularly poignant and the dwarfs stand head-and-shoulders above their more
famous counterparts in Huntsman. Sofía Oria is also quite touching as young
Carmen (while Macarena García’s older incarnation is somewhat less so).
one is struck by the painstaking composition of each shot and the care taken to
perfectly match every note of Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score (featuring both
sweeping orchestral pieces and some infectious flamenco-inspired songs). Furthermore, the lack of award season
recognition for Kiko de la Rica’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is
nothing less than a crime. A work of
true cinematic artistry, Blancanieves is
recommended for all real movie lovers when it opens this Friday (1/25) in New York.
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Fairy tale cinema, Silent Films, Spanish Cinema