© 2014 by James Clark
It seems a bit strange, wanting at the outset to dig into a rather complex point of film design, for a film virtually no one has seen. But, as never before with this series of film finds, we are about a film disclosure that entails a much-deserved rebirth, in the wake of the extreme failure to thrive that was its fate back in 2012, when it attracted (ignored) kudos on the part of a handful of critics but received no serious distribution. Blancanieves came forward as, alas, the second (by mere months) silent film of the 21st century (after Michel Hazanavicius’ enormously popular and acclaimed comedy, The Artist. Both Hazanavicius and Pablo Berger, the writer/director of our film here, worked independently to mine crucial currents of sensibility that could be startlingly accentuated by bringing body language to very intense levels in silent black and white filming replete with special filtering of the grey scale and a cast of masters of dance and mime. But whereas The Artist banked upon the copious rich windfalls forthcoming to largely mainstream domesticity, Blancanieves had a far darker and deeper story to tell.
Which brings us to that “complex point” we have to tackle in order to dispel any inferences that this narrative, packing an infrastructure teeming with details of the children’s story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, could be effectively engaged as suffused by the sentimental simplism of the Brothers Grimm and their ancient sources; or, for that matter, any “adult” variant of the conquest of evil by the forces of virtue. The Snow White factor, it won’t be so hard to demonstrate, hangs out there (as do the antiquated auras of the silent and black and white format and the eventuation of the bullfight and its rituals) as instancing historical architecture in the process of being razed by an intimate illumination of unprecedented cynicism, risk and disinterestedness. Though the original tale shows a poisoned heroine’s body lying in state in all its beauty in a shrine, under constant watch by the troupe of dwarfs, to be, before long, brought back to life by a loving hero’s kiss, our film (uncountable light-years away from Disney) has a bullfighter agent—who had taken advantage of the illiteracy of Snow White (Blancanieves), the novelty starlet in that field, to lock her into a lifetime contract for peanuts—putting her beautiful corpse on stage in a freak show, where men (and the occasional woman) would pay him to take a shot at delivering a magic kiss to bring her back to life. (Every night, by means of a mechanism hidden within the coffin, someone gets to imagine his kiss making her sit up and smile.) This being in fact a Surrealist shocker which goes on to take our breath away by its acuity regarding love, the freak show is preceded by the father of Carmencita (Snow White’s original name before getting into show biz along with 7 bullfighting dwarfs), a wheel chair-ridden former great matador, being pushed to his death down a long flight of stairs by his love-deficient second wife who proceeds to charge his fans to have their photo taken with him in his Suit of Lights. (more…)