Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Blancnieves" - a dark, disturbing version of an old fairytale

Last Saturday night, I slipped off to the Varsity Cinema to see Pablo Berger's version of SNOW WHITE and THE SEVEN DWARFS.

Forget Disney and think Almodovar.  A great bullfighter has his life change in a flash.  His only child, Carmen is born at the same time.  Her family tragedy marks her life.  This is a black and white film bathed in blood.

Sent to live with her grandmother and a pet rooster after her father's remarriage, Carmen is desperate for her father's love.  There is music and dancing at her grandmother's house but never the longed-for parent. Carmen's longing for her father's acceptance and regard sets her up for disaster.

When the grandmother dies unexpectedly, Carmen  gets her wish and goes to live with her father and her stepmother in a palace in the countryside that is both splendid and terrifying.  This turn of events is simultaneously the best and worst thing that can possibly happen to her.

The film, gorgeously shot in black and white is epic:  a big, bad psycho-drama that reminded me of the kind of film Bette Davis or Joan Crawford did at the height of their careers:  think JEZEBEL or MILDRED PIERCE.

The step-mother is that rare creature in cinema these days, a great villainess: pathetically vain, socially ambitious, gleefully sadistic and massively insecure (don't those two always go together?) fantastically played by Maribel Verdu.

Carmen ( an utterly captivating Macarena Garcia)  is good, talented, beautiful, smart, resourceful, curious and punished for her gifts at every turn.  She eventually escapes the stepmother and finds professional success and happiness with a band of dwarf bull-fighters. Alas, her moment in the sun is brief and comes at a great price.

This is not a story about lasting happiness.  It is about how happiness gets taken away from good people by the toxic poison cocktail of greed and envy.  It's about the unspeakable damage selfish, amoral people inflict on the vulnerable, the trusting , the naive and the young..

It is a beautiful film, compelling, disturbing and grandly tragic. Image and music powerfully drive the relentless narrative forward in a way dialogue seldom does. Go - and take a hanky:  you'll need it.