Director: Pablo Berger
Starring: Macarena García, Maribel Verdú, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Sofía Oria
In 2011 Michel Hazanavicius’ homage to classic silent cinema, The Artist, rode a wave of critical acclaim all the way to the Best Oscars. It was the first silent film to win the award since … in …, and in the process it demonstrated that silent cinema as a medium still had plenty to offer and there was still a market for it. The advent of synchronised sound in cinema in the 1920s revolutionised filmmaking, and in the eyes of many it made silent film a redundant medium. But silent film is simply a different medium that offers a different experience. For Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger, watching Hazanavicius accept the gold statue for Best Picture and Best Director must have been a bitter sweet moment. On the one hand the success of The Artist demonstrated that a well-made silent film could still be very successful. On the other hand it ensured that despite the fact he had already been developing his own silent film, Blancanieves, for a number of years, it would always be read in relation to this other picture. But while The Artist may have paved the way to some extent for Berger’s film, there is no denying that Blancanieves is an amazing achievement in its own right.
Blancanieves reimagines the story of Snow White as a silent melodrama set in the south of Spain in the 1920s. Carmen, the daughter of Antonio Villalta – once Spain’s most famous bullfighter who is now a quadriplegic after an accident in the ring – is forced to flee her evil step-mother Encarna who is keen to rid herself of Antonio and his daughter so she can enjoy his fortune in peace. Carmen is taken in by a band of dwarf bullfighters. When they discover her talent as a matador they incorporate her into their act and she quickly rises to become a national sensation, much to the horror of Encarna.
Berger’s adaptation does away with all the supernatural elements of the story; there is no magic mirror, no enchantments and no spells. But despite this, it retains the sense of wonder and magic of a fairy tale. Blancanieves definitely aligns itself more closely with the tone of the original Brothers Grimm version of the tale. It is quite dark and tragic, and the film’s conclusion in particular is by no means sees everyone living happily ever after. This is no Disney fairy tale.
This is a completely different beast to The Artist. Hazanavicius’ film was an endearing, modern, love letter to the world of silent films. It was a joyous film which had a fun, tongue-in-cheek approach to its silence. Blancanieves is more of an homage to the silent films of the 1910s and 1920s, with its style and selection of techniques giving it the feel of an authentic product of that era. If not for some scenes in which Encarna penchant for sadomasochism is seen, which never would have made it past the censors in the early 1900s, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a 90 year old film.
The very concept of silent film is itself a misnomer. Sound, in the form of a musical score, has always played an important role in the cinema, even before the advent of dialogue in films, and this is no different in Blancanieves where the events of the story are brought to life by Alfonso de Vilallonga’s romantic score.
If this film has a fault, it is probably that it is about 15 minutes too long – even though a 105 minute runtime is hardly exorbitant by today’s standards – as a result of a slight imbalance in the story. Berger’s script seems more interested in setting up the story, establishing the characters of Carmen, Antonio, Carmen’s mother and Encarna and the relationships between them, than it is in actually telling the story. So it is not until about halfway through the film, just when you are starting to think it might be dragging, that the Snow White narrative we are familiar with really kicks in. However, the story is so beautifully told, and the performance of Sofía Oria as the young Carmen is so endearing that you are largely happy to go with it.
Blancanieves is a clever and interesting reimagining of a familiar story, a visually beautiful featuring some engaging performances and shows the simple power of visual storytelling. Somewhat ironically, given it is a dialogue free film, it was Spain’s official nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Academy Awards, though it didn’t make the final nominees list.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That’s right, the little boy and girl who got lost in the woods and found themselves in a witches cottage made of candy are all grown up, and armed with an arsenal of medieval machine guns and crossbows they travel the countryside ridding towns of their witches.
The Brothers Grimm’ tale is the latest in a growing number of traditional fairy tales to get Hollywood revisions in recent years. In 2011 we had Red Riding Hood, last year we had a double dose of Snow White with Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack the Giant Slayer is due to hit our screens in March. In actuality Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was shot two years ago and Paramount have been waiting for the right moment to let it out. This provides some answers for those people wondering what on earth Jeremy Renner was doing in this after appearing in genuine blockbusters like The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy.
The first time I saw a poster for this movie I shook my head. When I saw the trailer it just made me a bit sad. Surely this had to be one of the most ridiculous premises for a movie yet, I thought. But then I saw it and guess what, it is ridiculous… but it isn’t terrible.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, it is far from being good, but it isn’t terrible. Where it drops the ball is that it doesn’t seem to realise that it is ridiculous. Ridiculousness in itself is not a bad thing. Had the filmmakers embraced the ridiculousness of the notion that Hansel and Gretel might grow up to be arse-kicking supernatural bounty hunters they could have played it up a bit, earned a bit of camp appeal and maybe even gathered a cult following. Instead the movie seems to take itself a bit too seriously, surprising given that Will Ferrel and Adam McKay of Anchorman fame are among its producers.
While most of the movie is pretty inane, there are moments of cleverness. For example, not only did their childhood experience set them on the path to their present day profession, it has also left Hansel a diabetic, suffering from “the sugar sickness” and requiring regular insulin injections.
In a movie that is so predictable that you feel like you know what is around every corner, the one thing that is surprising about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how schlocky it is. While the premise seems to suggest a very light gothic horror, the movie has a lot of blood, a surprising amount of coarse language and even a little bit of nudity. As a result it has been given an MA15+ rating (R in the USA) which will surely only serve to restrict the access of the primary demographic who might have been persuaded to think Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sounded like a good idea.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean