Modern silent pictures are a strange anomaly that I love. I wish there were more of them. The Artist, Guy Maddin movies, and this beautiful Spanish film all create worlds that would be hindered by the spoken word. They give a sense of wonder and folk-lore to a world that otherwise would be a genre or period piece.
Blancanieves is basically the Snow White story transplanted into the mid twenties bullfighting circuit in Spain. A famous bullfighter is gored by a bull. During this tragedy his love is sent into labor and dies while having a girl. The bullfighter rejects the baby and she goes to live with her grandmother until she dies. The girl is then moved back into the house of her father, but is restricted from seeing him because of the evil stepmother. The evil stepmother forces her to do hard labor for little to no comfort. The years go on and the stepmother becomes tired of having to care for an invalid ex-bullfighter. She wants something more. So she kills her husband and sends her off to be killed as well. An excruciating fight ensues and she is wounded and knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she discovers that she has been cared for by dwarves. She has no recollection as to where she comes from or what happened to her. She joins their outfit and becomes a great bullfighter, having been taught by her father in secret for some time. She gains a great deal of fame and fights at an arena that is sold out. At this climax, the evil stepmother finds out that this bullfighter is actually her stepchild and puts a plan into motion to poison her. Will she fulfill all of the plot points of Snow White? Will she be able to live a life that her father wanted for her? I guess you will have to watch the movie to find out.
This movie is a visual treat. It is filled to the brim with beautiful details that give you a sense of time and space. The high veils, the bullfighting costumes, and the thick dark contours of the women’s faces all give a social punch to the story. Each character’s performance is beautifully extracted. I especially loved the depravity of the evil stepmother, played by Maribel Verdu. She lights up the screen with her vicious stares and insane outfits. It is a gorgeous film that makes me want to just go through the screen Videodrome style and live in it.
When I was doing research for this post, I learned that this movie was wildly popular in Europe. It was quite possibly even more popular than the Artist was. But when I saw it pop up on Netflix Watch Instant, I had never heard of it. Right now we are knee-deep in the end of the year awards season. I can’t go to one pop culture site without seeing an end of the year best of or Oscar predictions. They seem to talk about the same four movies over and over again. I know that this is the nature of the beast and it is only natural to a lot of movie goers to just see the American movies that came out this year. But frankly I am just tired of seeing people write about how great Inside Llewyn Davis is or how much American Hustle is the next Boogie Nights. I am sure both of these movies are great and probably deserve all the praise that is being heaped on them, but I just don’t care. At a certain point, I just want someone to shout at me: “Hey! These foreign language movies or small independent movies are what is great about this past year, not the same Weinstein Brothers bullshit that happens every year.” I should have known about this movie. Part of it is my inability to seek out alternative movie review sites or read with enough intensity to get to these overlooked gems. But part of it is also most movie review sites refusing to talk about anything else besides American movies. I think that bigger movie review sites or even smaller ones should employ people who are willing to see the strange and the overlooked. They are willing to sit in a theater for nine hours in order to watch a Soviet masterpiece or care about the next Stan Brakhage. People who are willing to do these things will be able to skew your end of the year list or even Oscar talk to more unique entries. But too many reviewers and movie review sites want to explore just what is getting the most buzz instead of balancing that out with more obscure stuff. And more readers should be more demanding of this kind of stuff. Of course I would never have the balls to tell the A.V. Club that it needs to cover more foreign language stuff, but maybe you do. If you agree with me, then contact your big movie review sites of your personal choosing and ask if they could give more perspective on movies outside of the mainstream.