Frank Zappa once remarked in 1989 “it isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice – there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” Equal parts prophetic and overtly dramatic, it’s an idea that has certainly rung true. Especially when considering the last twenty years of cinema: remakes have ruled and endless sequels have been the candy for the major studio’s craving of bacon.
The third recent favourite of filmmakers and studios is films that aren’t necessarily remakes, but allusions to an old era or way of filmmaking within a genre. The most successful example of late is undoubtedly The Artist, a silent film made in 2011 that went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. An unashamed tribute to the silent era, it possesses all the hallmarks of F.W Murnau et al, as if a checklist was ticked over during production.
Blancanieves is the latest addition to these love letters to a bygone era. With roots tracing back to 2003, director Pablo Berger set about creating a tribute to European silent cinema, completely unaware of The Artist until the Academy Awards (it is said he reacted in a rather frustrated manner upon hearing of its success, as if it were meant for him).
It is a Spanish reimagining of the Snow White fairytale, ‘Blancanieves’ being the Spanish translation. Carmencita is the daughter of legendary bullfighting champion Antonio Villalta. A horrible accident occurs one afternoon when Antonio is gored at the same time his wife goes into childbirth, dying shortly after. Carmencita is the stranger birthed to him, a new chapter opening up for Antonio that he no longer wishes to live through without his wife.
Obviously it’s impossible to spoil this film: we all know the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What’s of greater concern is how well Berger has done his homework in crafting a love letter to the old world and it’s surprisingly effective. Anyone uneducated could be forgiven for assuming it was from the very era it was replicating.
Maribel Verdu excels as Encarna, the wicked stepmother. Between punishing Carmencita and spending all of Antonio’s money—all while engaging in hilarious pseudo-BDSM acts with her secret boyfriend—she plays into the palm of the audience shaking their fist at her devastating antics.
The person having the most fun here is Berger. He’s like a kid in Disneyland, taking every ride possible to make sure nothing is left out in his tribute to personal heroes. The framing is quite stunning and the black and white tones are gorgeous and he’s unashamed about its stance as a tribute. Nothing new is on offer here but that’s not important. Zappa was right about nostalgia ruling the end of the world but if it’s merely to offer a counterpoint to The Artist then it can’t be too bad of a thing, surely?
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire