‘Blancanieves’ on Amazon Prime

Maribel Verdú in Pablo Berger's 'Blancanieves' from Spain

Blancanieves (2009), an inventive retelling of Snow White as a silent-movie melodrama in the 1920s world of bullfighting royalty and flamenco style in Spain, stirs in grand melodrama, circus fantasy, and toreador hero worship with a mix of silent film conventions and contemporary storytelling.

We’re talking the same sort of modern silent film as The Artist, but more stylized, with nods to Valentino’s Blood and Sand by way of Victor Sjostrom and Pedro Almodovar, and a twist of modern heroine empowerment.

The Snow White of this film is Carmen (Inma Cuesta), the all-but-abandoned daughter of a crippled bullfighter (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Maribel Verdú (the older woman of Y Tu Mamá También) plays the role of the scheming nurse turned social-climbing wicked stepmother Encarna with a sadistic glee. There’s also a band of dwarfs with a gypsy bullfighting act and a poisoned apple, but the classic elements end there. The corrida becomes the realm of magic here as the amnesia-struck Carmen becomes a matador in her own right, adored heroine and Prince Charming all at once.

Director Pablo Berger plays the melodrama big and Verdú vamps it for all she’s worth. Venom drips from Encarna’s smiles and her eyes burn with excitement as she turns the adorable, eternally optimistic Carmen into a scullery maid and her chauffeur-turned-lover into her obedient dog. Complete with leash. More powerful than the wickedness of Encarna, however, is the predatory grip of a dodgy agent with an exclusive contract.

No one is going to mistake this self-aware silent film for a classic movie, but his creative energy and inventive more than justifies the appropriation of the style. It’s gorgeous and clever and, by the end, even tragic.

Blancanieves won ten Goya Awards, Spain’s answer to the Oscars.

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About Sean Axmaker

Sean Axmaker is a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, The Seattle Weekly, Keyframe, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org). He was a film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for nine years and a longtime home video columnist for IMDb and MSN Movies, and his work has appeared in Indiewire, Today.com, The Stranger, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, Filmfax, Psychotronic Video, and "The Scarecrow Video Guide." You can find links to all of this and more on his shamelessly self-promoting blog at http://www.seanax.com/

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