Monday, April 1, 2013
My top pick of the week - one of the few best films of the early year - is Pablo Berger's "Blancanieves," a black-and-white silent (though full of Spanish music of every kind, from romantic guitar to heel-clicking flamenco) that will finally purge the aftertaste of "The Artist" from your mouth.
The film, a melodramatic reimagining of the Snow White story, opens in Seville in the 1910's (between this, "Renoir," and the upcoming Taper production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," the decade of the moment), where the beloved matador Antonio Villalta takes on six toros on one card before losing his concentration for one brief and tragic moment. Badly gored, he falls into the clutches of the avaricious nurse Encarna, who learns that Antonio's wife has died in childbirth and insinuates herself into his conservatorship.
The forgotten daughter, Carmen, lives with her loving grandmother, Dona Concha, but Encarna soon brings her to their expansive estate, warning her that "the entire second floor is absolutely off limits to you!" Carmen and her father share stolen moments together, while Encarna engages in obliquely observed perversions and heaps cruelties on Carmen. (After assiduously ignoring her for months, Encarna finally invites Carmen to dinner - of course, at opposite ends of a screen-length table - where Carmen realizes that Encarna has roasted her beloved rooster, Pepe. "Don't you like Pepe-ry chicken?" Encarna asks.) After fending off the flunky Encarna sends to kill her, Carmen escapes into the woods and the caravan of a sextet of dwarf bullfighters who take her under their wing. The film climaxes at the same coliseum where it opened, where Carmen, now a star toreador herself, is thrown coins and roses by the appreciative crowd - as well as one tempting apple.
Berger's beautiful and entrancing "Blancanieves" stays true to the essential framework of the classic narrative while adding lots of charming and delightful little touches. It's a lurid and lush film - best experienced by allowing it to wash over you -but one as interested in feeling as in structure. And the last shot is an absolute gem.