Blancanieves: Spanish film goes back in time with old school approach to movie making

Before Jack Warner and his brothers found pay dirt in the form of a singing and talking Al Jolson and changed commercial cinema, movies were silent, designed to be image driven and dialogue free works of art. In the more opulent and realized pictures, full scores were composed and performed live at grandiose screenings of the pictures, truly bridging the gap between cinema and theatre.

That spirit of sound marrying image to create dream-like narrative entertainment is alive, well and rapturous in writer/director Pablo Berger’s superlative magic-realist fable Blancanieves. Filmed in silvery black and white, this elegant Spanish flavoured revisit of Snow White blends bullfighting and strained parental relations in what is one of the most gorgeous films of this — or any other — year.

“I have always believed cinema should be a sensorial experience,” Berger told Metro on the eve of the project’s Toronto theatrical opening.

And Blancanieves is certainly that, as many critics instantly attested to when the film premiered at TIFF in 2012, including the recently late icon Roger Ebert, who was the first to rave about it in print.

“He was key,” admits Berger.

“After our first screening at TIFF, the world premiere, the next day after Roger wrote that review, all the buyers and producers from around the world in Toronto at that time came to see it and I’ll forever thank Roger for that. He was the essential element to the success of the film.”

Blancanieves is a passionate fervor, with expressionist imagery and a novel storyline involving a girl who runs afoul of her stepmother while forging a belated relationship with her invalid father, a former decorated matador. It is a film as reliant on its director’s vision as it is the score by composer Alfonso de Villalonga.

“These films I make are my children. Though all of them are never perfect, but they have their own life. I accept my films as they are. A film like Blancanieves is so personal and it took me eight years to bring it to screen. But now it is getting a new life. Just now in Madrid, we screened the film with a live orchestra performing Alfonso’s score. A film like this can have many lives and can be seen more than once and appreciated in different ways.”

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