Hollywood tried and failed twice last year to make a worthwhile movie based on the Brothers Grimm's 19th-century fairy tale Snow White. So news of another movie inspired by the story — this one written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger — may not elicit much enthusiasm from potential audiences. But Blancanieves is a Snow White of a different color. A silent movie set in 1920s Spain and shot in the atmospheric black and white of early European Impressionist films, Blancanieves intentionally recalls that freewheeling era without becoming a slave to it. The film uses full-screen dialogue cards in place of spoken word, just like 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist, but it has a natural, organic quality that makes that earlier film — for all its deserved success — seem artificial by comparison.
Like any good fairy tale, Blancanieves is both whimsical and dark. It reimagines Snow White as the daughter of a great bullfighter. There's an evil stepmother (Maribel Verdu, of Pan's Labyrinth fame) and the title character (Sofia Oria) is rescued in the woods by Los Enanitos Toreros, which translates to "The Dwarf Matadors" — a real-life phenomenon easily verified by a quick search on YouTube. But Blancanieves transcends its familiar literary roots. The film's bountiful art and poetry can be found in the lush images of cinematographer Kiko de la Rica, which are handcrafted using a variety of styles and techniques to maximize the power of each scene, and in the expressive score of composer Alfonso De Vilallonga, ranging from orchestral to solo piano to flamenco and adding emotional depth throughout. You'll forget you're watching a silent movie. And it's almost like those other Snow Whites never happened at all. — KEN KORMAN