A miracle or a curse?

I’m not going to try and review Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves without addressing the elephant in the room, because I unfortunately don’t think it’s possible to do; this black-and-white silent feature had one of the worst cases of “runner-up syndrome” in all of cinema, rippling onto the scene after the roaring tsunami that was The Artist already came and swept up all the awards and accolades first. An anecdote from Berger’s own mouth details how he got a phone call while in pre-pro for this one, telling him about The Artist and how it beat Berger’s film to the punch, and how Berger almost smashed his phone against the wall in disbelief and anger. I don’t blame him. But, for just one second, let’s imagine the films had been released in reverse order; that Blancanieves had been the first modern-day ode to silent film, and The Artist had come after. What would have happened? Judging Blancanieves on its merits, and against that of The Artist’s, here’s what I’d wager would have happened: while Blancanieves would have been seen as the progenitor of the idea, The Artist would have been seen as that idea finally being fully realized into its most masterful form.

For this particular homage to silent film, Berger has chosen to adapt the fable of Snow White, and by adapt I actually mean transplant, in just about every sense of the word. Instead of taking place in a fairy tale world, this version of the story takes place in 1920s Spain, and here the titular Snow White is a title given to a young bullfighter, the daughter of a famous matador, who undergoes a life of hardship at the hands of her quote-unquote evil stepmother, before blossoming into her own. Almost all of the individual slices that make up the Snow White pie are here in some form; it’s just figuring out what it’s all supposed to add up to that is the real issue. If that plot sounds a little weird, but in a good, inventive kind of weird, you’re not alone; I can’t discredit Blancanieves for not trying things a little differently than how we know them. But, like I said in the opener, there’s a big difference between The Artist, which perfectly encapsulates everything that makes silent cinema so magical in the modern era, and Blancanieves, which, again, like I said in the opener, seems to only want to generate the idea rather than actually make something of it. I’ll paraphrase from another review I read of this one to explain a little better what I mean; despite the pedigree it is trying to flaunt and the “love letter” to silent cinema it tries to be, Blancanieves is not really a silent film. It is merely a regular, modern film, that just happens to be silent and in black-and-white. I say this because of how the film looks and how it is constructed, which is anything but reminiscent of the great silents of the 1920s. For one, there is a shocking amount of handheld and mobile camera usage, something that, given the heavy and unwieldy cameras of the early cinematic era, was virtually nonexistent and thus comes across in Blancanieves as jarringly incongruent. Another thing that annoyed me was how on-the-nose everything about the film was to the viewer. Damn near every visual gag, every dramatic plot point, every turn in the story was so ridiculously telegraphed that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at how predictable the whole film was. I will say, though, that the one thing I didn’t see coming was the ending, which I won’t spoil for anyone still interested in seeing this one; suffice it to say, though, that certain tropes are subverted at just the right time, which made the banal predictability of the film up to that point a little more than questionable in my eyes.

Here’s the thing; I wanted to like Blancanieves, and I gave the film a fair shot. But there was just so much incongruous material and filmmaking taking place that I’d seriously wonder if this film really was the product of a single individual’s vision. The whole thing feels too cobbled together, and aside from the style and aesthetic of the picture, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of thought put into the piece as a whole. I could cite a few examples, such as the wicked stepmother’s irrational need to kill the Snow White of the story, the addition of the poisoned apple aspect, and even the existence of the stepmother in the first place, but it seems a little more fair to merely look at Blancanieves as a whole in order to see, not which individual pieces are out of place or don’t belong, but that the whole thing is basically a half-completed jigsaw puzzle, albeit one that still has quite a look to it. I also hate to be “that guy”, especially since Berger himself did nothing to warrant it, but I don’t see the need for this addition to the list in the wake of The Artist doing it better. This, coupled with the numerous problems with the piece, is why I ended up where I did. Still, you could certainly spend an hour or two with far worse films, so I guess there’s that.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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