After The Artist captured the public's imagination in 2011, I wondered if it would open the door to a new wave of silent films. Well, I wondered only half-seriously, because although it was a charming movie, The Artist was also clearly designed to be a novelty. So no, it wasn't the start of an exciting retro trend, and nobody should have expected it to be. However, someone has officially picked up the silent torch, and it is Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger with his unstoppably gorgeous Blancanieves.
Riffing off the basic story of Snow White – "Blancanieves" is the literal Spanish translation of "Snow White" – and setting it (mostly) in 1920s Seville amidst the world of bullfighters, writer/director Berger finds a happy medium between modern filmmaking techniques and the classic look of silent cinema. Shot in stunning black and white and using the old 1.33:1 aspect ratio of early movies, Blancanieves pays clever homage to some of the era's signature visuals – dramatic close-ups, super-imposed imagery – while mixing it up with fast cuts and occasional handheld camerawork. The high melodrama of the story verges on camp, but it's all part of the fun, and it fits perfectly into the old-fashioned style. In short, this film feels like the offspring of Pedro Almodóvar and Guy Maddin, and I mean that as a compliment.
Ironically, so much of Blancanieves is so impossibly perfect that its ending – and I'm spoiling nothing – disappointed me in that it is merely very good. The last 10-15 minutes of the film feel simultaneously rushed and understated, as though its energy could only be sustained for so long before finally giving out – like a flamenco dancer who, after an hour and a half of stomping and clapping and twirling about, simply collapses from exhaustion. But don't let that stop you from seeing it.
I can't finish this review without a nod to the extraordinary musical score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. It fills every one of Blancanieves' 104 minutes and it's beautiful, sweeping, and undeniably Spanish. No less inspiring is Kiko de la Rica's jaw-dropping black and white cinematography. For these two reasons alone, I urge you to rush out and see this movie at once. It's magical, invigorating stuff.