Fairy-tale inspiration done right, in two delightful imports
Here, Snow is the daughter of a famous bullfighter (a beautiful performance by Daniel Giménez Cacho) who's paralyzed physically in the ring, then emotionally by the death of his flamenco star wife (Inma Cuesta) in childbirth. He can't bring himself to see his daughter until a grandmother's death brings little Carmencita (the marvelous Sofía Oria) to the isolated ranch he now shares with nurse-turned-second-wife Encarna — Maribel Verdú as a very Jazz Age evil stepmother, whose vanity expresses itself in outrageous fashion spreads for the socialite columns. Once the girl matures (now played by the ingratiating, slightly androgynous Macarena García), Encarna senses a rival, and to save her life Carmen literally runs away with the circus — at which point the narrative slumps a bit. But only a bit.
Where The Artist was essentially a cleverly sustained gimmick elevated by a wonderful central performance, Blancanieves transcends its ingenious retro trappings to offer something both charming and substantiative. Berger doesn't treat the story template as a joke — he's fully adapted it to a culture, place, and time, and treats its inherent pathos — you didn't see much of that in last year's Mirror Mirror or Snow White and the Huntsman, did you? — with great delicacy. It's hard to imagine who wouldn't enjoy Blancanieves — well, excepting the audience for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
LET MY PEOPLE GO! and BLANCANIEVES open Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.