Sunday, November 17, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Blancanieves (2013) *****

PG-13, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Pablo Berger
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Macarena García, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Sergio Dorado, Emilio Gavira, Alberto Martínez, Jinson Añazco, Michal Lagosz, Jimmy Muñoz, José María Pou, Sofia Oria, Ramón Barea, Inma Cuesta

Can I give a movie five stars? I mean, I work off a four star scale, but I think I need to award “Blancanieves” five stars on that scale. That’s right. It’s off the scale. This movie is just that good.

“Blancanieves” is a black & white silent adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale. Made in Spain last year, it is the best movie to be released in the United States this year. It sets the story in the arena of bullfighting. Antonio Villalta is the nation’s greatest bullfighter. His last bullfight doesn’t go so well. A bull named Lucifer gores him and while he’s in surgery his wife dies in childbirth. Villalta will have nothing to do with his newborn child, Carmen, who is raised by her grandmother.

Meanwhile, Villalta’s nurse sees an opportunity to become part of one of the wealthiest families in the country. She weasels her way into becoming Villalta’s bride; and when Carmen’s grandmother dies, her stepmother brings her home to live in the basement and work like a slave. Carmen longs to see her father and breaks the rules of going to the second level of the mansion to find him. She discovers that her stepmother treats him as miserably as her and only uses him for his money and power.

Soon Carmen is stealing away to the second level on a regular basis to see her father, who regrets that he did not see her when she was a baby. Although he is a paraplegic he teaches her the essentials of bullfighting, until one day her stepmother discovers their deception and has her stooge take Carmen out in the woods to kill her. He thinks he succeeds, but she is rescued by a group of traveling entertainers, seven bullfighting dwarves. Carmen has lost her memory but discovers she has a gift for the bullfighting and becomes part of the show. The rest you can probably guess.

All of this is beautifully and faithfully presented in the black & white silent film style, with an amazing score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. While much of the acting is stylized, there is never a sense that the movie is dated in any way. Since it is a new movie, I suppose that makes sense, yet everything about it is true to silent era filmmaking. It uses the same type of montages and overlays, apparent stock footage where appropriate, and style-perfect cinematography and camera angles.

Don’t let any of these throwback ideas turn you off of the notion of watching this film, however. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and its style hardly matters in terms of the story it has to tell. In fact, watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think to myself, why did we ever bother adding sound dialogue to movies at all. Nothing here would benefit from sound, and all of it is just perfect as it is. I could stand any number of movies in this style done with this quality of filmmaking and never see a “talkie “ again, and I’d be happy as a clam. This is the best movie of the year, the best movie in many years, even better than the black & white silent Oscar winner “The Artist” from a few years back.

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