A sensual and sophisticated retelling of a beloved fairytale re-imagined as a homage to European silent cinema, Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger’s black-and-white Blancanieves will leave you transfixed.

Set in 1920s Seville, heroic bullfighter Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) earns cheers as he dedicates his efforts to his flamenco-dancer wife, who is heavily pregnant with their first child. Tragedy strikes with a double fist, and the widowed and badly injured Antonio marries his nurse Encarna, a calculating harpy who only has eyes for his stardom and pesos. She has no time for Antonio’s newborn, who grows into the sweet child Carmencita. She’s sent off to be raised by her grandmother, part of Encarna’s scheme to keep father and daughter apart.

But what’s a Snow White myth without the wicked stepmother making life miserable for the innocent child? Carmencita ends up at the grand house Encarna now rules, her wheelchair-bound husband sequestered upstairs and off limits to the lonely girl who labours like Cinderella downstairs. She sneaks to his side to dance for her papa while he schools her in classic bullfighter’s moves, becoming a young woman of considerable grace and spirit.

We need no spoken words to convey the heartbreak, drama and comic touches in the script. The acting is high drama; no subtlety here, but it works, complemented by a stirring score from Alfonso de Vilallonga that ranges from simple rhythmic clapping to sobbing cellos and a heartfelt repeating central theme.

Carmen’s transformation into the title character comes via a case of amnesia and a fortuitous meeting with a travelling comedy troupe of dwarf toreadors. They dub her Blancanieves and she finds, to her astonishment, she has the soul of a bullfighter the moment she picks up a cape. A new star of the ring is born.
Blancanieves is a wholly immersive film experience that doesn’t shy away from exploiting all the melodrama cradled in this children’s fairy tale, spiking the action with modern quirks and even a bit of kink.


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