Saturday, January 26, 2013

Talk Cinema: Blancanieves

I missed the last Talk Cinema screening while I was in London, but since Quartet opened today, that's just money spent rather than opportunity lost. I actually didn't get much of a chance to look forward to this one, since it wasn't announced until pretty much the day before. The description didn't even say that it was an actual silent, just that it was silent-influenced, so that was a nifty surprise.

Gerald Peary introduced, and I kind of groaned a bit when he spent a lot of time talking about The Artist both before and after the movie. Sure, it's the obvious comparison, but it seems like an easy one that doesn't really tell us anything, especially since the two films were made roughly simultaneously. It seems like there would be much more to talk about by discussing the influences, both general and specific.

Also, it's not like The Artist is the only recent silent film. I get that very few people have had a chance to see Louis - from what I gather, it's not getting a release until it can play with Bolden!, which has finished shooting but the filmmaker anticipates screwing around with editing and post-production for another six months to a year - but Call of Cthulhu exists and I've seen a fair amount of silent shorts at festivals. Heck, just last year two Chinese films used silent movie bits for flashbacks (The Bullet Vanishes and Tai Chi Zero) - there's actually enough modern silent stuff to talk about to notice patterns.

For instance, one thing I've noticed is that expository intertitles are almost non-existent in modern silents compared to those made back in the day. If you watch an old silent movie, the title cards are actually used for much more than just dialogue, or introducing a character (which does occasionally happen in the new ones). At times, those old movies can feel a little like reading a book, as the scripter expands on a character's motives, explains what's going on, or fills in things that happen off-screen. Some of this is material that sound films will use dialogue to fill in, but modern silents will try to depict it visually in one way or another - either by doing the "show a newspaper" or adding an extra scene scene or just expecting the audience to take in and process more background detail. In some ways, it resembles how modern comics differ from their "Golden Age" ancestors (including the elaborate newspaper strips that preceded original comic books) - static images with captions has given way to dynamic action, thought balloons (often serving more as asides to the reader than what the character would actually be thinking) are gone, etc. Part of it's technology and budget; you can shoot (or draw) more elaborate things because of new devices, more comfort in reproduction, and longer schedules with more resources. But it's aesthetic, as well - modern moviegoers really do expect to be shown rather than told.

Anyway, there's a starting point. Here's the review of the movie for EFC; if you've seen the movie, stick around afterward for discussion of the ending, where the movie really lost me.

Blancanieves

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

Two movies based on Snow White came out in the United States last year, and that seemed a little excessive. That wasn't the extent of it, though - aside from the inevitable direct-to-video knock-offs, Blancanieves came out in Spain, and was even submitted as the country's entry in the Oscars' Foreign-Language Film category. And give it its due - as a silent, black-and-white film that imagines the characters as bullfighters, it won't be easily confused with other versions.

Once upon a time (roughly 1910), there was a great bullfighter, Antonio Villata (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who had a beautiful wife (Inma Cuesta), but their child would enter the world in tragic circumstances. As "Carmencita" (Sofia Oria) is raised by her grandmother (Ángela Molina), Antonio is seduced by his nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdú). Eventually the three are all living in the same house, and Encarna sees her now-grown stepdaughter Carmen (Macarena García) as a threat, and sends her driver and lover into the woods to dispose of her. Left for dead, she's discovered by a traveling troupe of midget bullfighters, who nurse her back to health and make her part of the act.

"Snow White" has been adapted as a feature-length film any number of times not just because it's public domain and famous and thus very appealing to cheap, risk-averse producers, but because the idea at its core - an woman who used her looks to get where she is feeling threatened by a younger, prettier girl - will probably always be something the audience will be able to hook onto. The trouble with the story is, it can tend to leave the Snow White character something of a blank, since any sign of actual ambition would serve to legitimize the villainess's fear and potentially make her too sympathetic a character. Sometimes the queen/stepmother/witch ironically makes Snow into an enemy by her actions, but that's not what happens here - Berger actually seems to go out of his way to prevent Carmen from actually doing anything besides learn bullfighting: He spends a long time on her childhood, doesn't establish a strong personality before the attempted murder, and then finds a reason for Carmen to just hang out with her new friends rather than address it.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

SPOILERS!

Blancanieves is a pretty good movie, even if it does have the Snow White problems I mentioned in the main review. I really do think they're kind of intrinsic to the concept and tough to get around - I remember being kind of frustrated with Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even before I really started trying to work out how plots worked; I always think of Snow not doing much of anything active and the end really being pulled out of nowhere. I only saw Mirror Mirror out of last year's Snow White double feature - Tarsem Singh directing the funny one, I figured, had to be seen to be believed - and they had to work hard to get Snow active while still mostly sticking with the Disney story.

The end of Blancanieves is annoying beyond that, though. Carmen has to be given amnesia so that she doesn't do much to actually deal with Encarna, and then the traditional last act winds up hyper-compressed - Carmen starts to get snippets of memory back, Encarna hits her with the poisoned apple, dwarfs chase her to her death, then the coma and glass coffin. And then... nothing. No Prince Charming, no idea how long Carmen stays in the freak show with Rafita (I think), the handsome dwarf who loves her; no definitive resolution at all. Even a dark ending would be better than that, I think, especially since Rafita's affection was a minor enough subplot brought up late enough in the game that it's tough for the audience to feel anything but "that's kind of creepy" as he tends to her in the circus; there's just not enough to it for it to feel romantic or tragic. And while the dwarfs do chase Encarna down so that she's trampled by a bull, it is so completely off-screen that even if one doesn't argue that she could have escaped (highly unlikely), the audience still doesn't get the emotional release of seeing her done in, even if that does mean that both Encarna and Carmen & the dwarfs score a pyrrhic victory.

For that matter, the jump to the freakshow is awkward; as much as the reference to Freaks is probably well-intended, it's a new situation given very little time to establish itself, and not clear at all - several in the audience, including Peary, didn't quite catch that the person running the show was Carmen's agent, who tricked the illiterate Carmen into signing a lifetime contract. It's too fast, the illiteracy seems kind of odd itself (it seems hard to believe that neither her grandmother or father would have taught her to read in the twentieth century), and the shyster agent is a side story that the movie really doesn't need, especially since it's already got a villain in Encarna.

Basically, even the things that are resolved at the end don't feel resolved, so when the screen fades to black and the credits start rolling, it's unsatisfying, like Berger just ran out of time, and it really deflates what he'd been doing until then.

!SRELIOPS

6 comments:

Lulabelle said...

I just saw Blancanieves, which overall I did enjoy. I found the black and white silent aspect to be relaxing and the story held my interest. The ending was very disappointing , Carmen was not displayed to be uneducated as a child, so Carmen claiming to not read just didn't seem right and her new friends didn't help with interpreting the contract, that seemed weird. The ending was disappointing, where was the victory over the villan and we're waiting on edge for the kiss of her true love, for them to start a new life with each other in spite of all the challenges and darkness Carmen endured. Just wish the ending was different.

Unknown said...

What do you mean the ending was dissappointing?! The music and film was magnifically created and shot. The ending was unexpected but beautiful. There doesn't always have to be a resolution. It is a new version of Snow White where they added bull fighting and work and there didn't have to be a happily ever after or a kiss that woke her up! You are completely missing the real beauty of the film! The ending was so well done and the tear was so symbolic even if we cannot catch the deeper meaning behind it! We gave this movie 5 stars!!

Unknown said...

What do you mean the ending was dissappointing?! The music and film was magnifically created and shot. The ending was unexpected but beautiful. There doesn't always have to be a resolution. It is a new version of Snow White where they added bull fighting and work and there didn't have to be a happily ever after or a kiss that woke her up! You are completely missing the real beauty of the film! The ending was so well done and the tear was so symbolic even if we cannot catch the deeper meaning behind it! We gave this movie 5 stars!!

. said...

I just saw this movie last night and I was blown away. What did you take from the ending? I am mixed about it.

. said...

I just saw this movie last night and I was blown away. What did you take from the ending? I am mixed about it.

Gary Charles said...

I was bothered by the plot hole that Carmen gets all her memories back but did not remember Encarna and takes the apple. Although an ending without resolution is annoying, there is a wave of movies lately that calls on the viewers to imagine their own ending. From the tear we know that she is in a coma and not dead. From there, you can imagine anything. The movie itself is a brilliant depiction of the culture of Spain. Bullfighting, Flamenco, and the silent movie era in Spain including Carmen, la de Triana, a successful silent movie of Spain as one of the characters.