When an ostensibly “silent” film takes home the best picture Oscar, beating out another film about George Meliés, you know we’re living in a cinematic landscape where everything nostalgic is ripe for revisitation. While some found The Artist contrived, I fell deeply for that film, finding its cheeky mix of fun with melodrama a refreshing take, far from a mere ripoff of classic films.
A year after The Artist played TIFF we have another offering of silent-style film, this one slightly less audience friendly, but certainly an accomplishment in and of itself. Blancaneives (or “Snow White”, if you prefer) bases its narrative on the Grimm fairy tale.
The film begins with a toreador engaged with his deadly dance inside a bull ring. When he takes his cap off to acknowledge his lovely, pregnant wife, he is gored, causing paralysis. His nurse takes an unnatural interest in him, and when his wife dies during childbirth, she becomes a wicked step mother to the young child, pushing the father further and further away form the outside world.
The daughter grows up and find her freedom, sheltered by a group of short in stature bull fighters. Thus, we get a vision of Snow White and her diminutive companions fighting their way for respect and admiration.
The film is an unabashed melodrama – big, sweeping emotions, conniving henchmen, snarling step mothers making for extremely broad swings of tone and narrative drive. The casting is particularly effective, with the faces and figures of the ensemble befitting very much a film of the early 20s.
Kiko de la Rica’s photography is often stunning, as would be expected from such a project. The greys are lush and varied, creating moments of chiaroscuro with deep blacks, or more glossy and open shots inside the stadium.
A film of this is of course never really “silent”. Alfonso Vilallonga’s score is more than up to the task of filling in for any dialogue that would usually be at the forefront, creating sweeping and emotional moments and driving much of the pace of the film forward. Intertitles on the presentation that screened at TIFF were in English, but were few and far between. The visuals, and the lush score, did much of the heavy lifting.
The film’s not quite the success I had hoped from it – the story, after all, holds few surprises, and its heightened, melodramatic tendencies often verge on the cloying. Still, as a relatively unique experience within the run of the festival, the work certain stood out. It may lack some of the charm of last year’s film that it will inevitably be asked to live up to, but still manages in its own way to bring something unique to the screen.
Blancanieves is a beautifully crafted, if not entirely successful throwback to a golden age of filmmaking from nearly a century ago, a lovely excursion back to a previous era.