The Film: Blancanieves – Spain
From the giant red curtain swinging back to open the film to the bittersweet ending that so mirrors the culture which influences every drop of this take on the classic tale of Snow White — this is intelligent filmmaking.
The setting for this incarnation is fresh, the characters seem new, and the production is confident. It should be. The moment the baby girl is wheeled to her father’s hospital room in a glass incubator, foreshadowing her glass coffin, the pace and rhythm drive the story forward and weave a new culture into the fabric of the tale.
The introduction of the villain marks the first use of fading visual elements over each other and lends a smart storytelling device to the fairytale that is used well. Her introduction is subtle and arrives without the use of overt melodramatic crutches. We come to know who she is by what she does and early on there is no doubt she is the villain.
The music is a clear narrator which also refrains from hammy queues. The transitions between classic silent film arrangements, the modern music of the 20’s, and the highs and lows of flamenco genuinely work together to balance the tale. The music simulating the common theme we know as a period news announcement is a sharp touch. The flamenco seems made for silent film. It adds a richness to the sorrow as the clapping communicates the heartbeat of young Carmen first as she chases after her father, then into a dance of joy with her grandmother, and finally into another death. Even the crackling sound between songs that makes it sound as though someone has changed the record just off camera.
Blancanieves is brimming with creativity revealing a passion for filmmaking. Director Pablo Berger must have been passionately in love with the production as only creators who have equal parts obsession and confidence produce work with such intentional detail.
Young Carmen’s first communion is a smart addition to the tale and weaves the culture into the story as if it were meant to be there. More importantly is the addition of her step-mother chopping off her hair. The clever addition naturally introduces a mirror and hints at the theme of beauty, central in the original. I dislike remakes because they strip the culture from the narrative but here is something wonderful — addition not subtraction.
Additionally there is a concentration of subtly. It’s amazing what can be communicated with subtlety and how much more powerful those ideas and words become when information is a limited commodity — the single shot of a white dress being dyed black, the shot of the bulls in the pasture as Carmen moves away from safety and into the second act.
The scenes with her father are the most touching part of the film and are balanced by the comic tone of Carmen’s pet chicken — a great nod to the fairytale genre and, even if it was unintentional, Disney princesses and their animal companions.
With masterful understanding, the classic title cards containing dialog are used carefully to present important information. The movie communicates using additional methods without sacrificing understanding. It knows spoon-feeding an audience breeds contempt.
Remakes and adaptations fall apart as the new take on the subject is often singular, it doesn’t permeate the production the way elements can when creating the concept. This is generally why sequels and reboots are ultimately uninspired echoes, attempts to recapture the original’s greatness are often miscalculations of what made the story work in the first place. But here Blancanieves works on both levels. The bull is a permeating motif and the focus shift from a woman who finds her prince, to a girl seeking her father, understands at the heart of the story is the desire to love and be loved.
The tropes of the original tale are wisely minimized into intelligent concepts. The step-mother’s mirror becomes a newspaper where the hunger for beauty becomes a desire for attention and her reflection comes in a pool where she dumps her lover. As evidenced even by the movie’s poster her strong character nearly drowns the grown Carmen, whose character growth stunts as the film goes on. It would have been nice to see that further development but here the film reverts to its fairytale origins.
The ending reminded me a lot of watching The Artist, wondering if it would end on the side of traditional foreign cinema or be brave enough to have the happy ending the movie called for. Ultimately The Artist holds together better in the end but I have confidence in Pablo Berger’s storytelling. Had he chose to include a classical romance or even continued the one he developed to a slightly less obscured ending, this film would have been equally wonderful and found a slightly larger audience such as those who enjoy the works of Tim Burton or the television show Pushing Daises. Perhaps it was one step too many away from the source material but ultimately my previous adventures into Spanish film had me prepared.
Like The Artist, Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves pays a loving homage to classic cinema and is a silent film worth tuning in for.
The Food: Paella Popcorn
The key ingredients to the spice mix are parsley, chili, paprika, black pepper, salt, garlic, and saffron. I also decided that I would mix butter and olive oil for a richer flavor base.
The deep spices and bright flavor seems like your eating a meal.
Prepare 1/4 cup corn kernels with your preferred method, remove the unpopped kernels, and place in a mixing bowl.
In a saucepan on medium heat add:
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried or fresh parsley
- 1/8th – 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground back pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon saffron
Warm the mixture, swirling the pot to combine. When the butter and oil have combined and the flavors have bloomed, pour over the popcorn and mix to coat. Serve immediately and enjoy!
If you’re looking for an even more exotic flavor you can add dried or fresh lemon zest and seafood flavor traditionally added to the rice dish. Try adding shrimp powder to the butter and oil or add shrimp or cuttlefish chips with your popcorn.