Most of the time a retelling of a well known story does not work. Think about Snow White and the Huntsman or Mirror Mirror and how awful those went. But for every bad retelling there are good ones. For example, I think the TV show Once Upon a Time is genius. Sure the storylines are terrible because the writers cannot seem to think of anything original but the way the classic fairy tales are told and the way all the fairy tale characters come together are genius (for anyone who watches it I am Evil Regal and Outlaw Queen all the way!). Movie wise there is an amazingly incredible retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves called Blancancieves from Spain.
Blancancieves is a black and white silent movie that was made in 2012. Usually for Silent Sundays I do a real silent film from the actual silent era. I had Blancancieves saved on my Netflix cue and for the life of me could not remember why until I read the description that it was silent. I travel on the weekends and needed silent movie to watch since I forgot to pick one out before I left. Blancancieves came up and I thought good enough I can get away with it despite being new. I cannot even begin to tell you how outrageously thrilled I am that I found Blancancieves and watched it.
The story begins in the early 1900s. A famous bullfighter named Antonio Villalta takes to the arena. He throws his hat to his pregnant wife in the audience. She misses the catch and it falls signaling a bad omen. Soon enough, Antonio is gorged by the bull. The entire audience is panic stricken that this famous man is seriously wounded. The wife goes into such shock that she goes into labor. Antonio fights for his life on the operating table and survives. The wife is not so fortunate but their baby daughter survives. Antonio has been paralyzed from the neck down. His nurse Encarna begins to take advantage of him as soon as another nurse tells her that Antonia is very rich and when she sees that Antonio cannot even look at his child because of his grief for his wife.
The daughter Carmen is brought up by her grandmother, her mother’s mother. The two have a very happy loving life together. Their happiness unfortunately ends when the grandmother dies at Carmen’s party for her communion. Carmen is sent to live with her father. Encarna has become Carmen’s stepmother and has completely taken advantage of the father. When Carmen comes to the house Encarna forbids the little from going upstairs and places her in a disgusting basement with just a mattress away from the house. One day Carmen’s rooster Pepe gets loose in the house and goes to the second floor. Carmen goes upstairs looking for him. She comes to the room where her father is left alone in his wheelchair.
The day after father and daughter meet for the first time since she was born, they spend every day happy together. He reads to her and even teaches her how to bullfight. One day they are almost caught by Encarna when Carmen moves Antonio’s wheelchair around to make him dance and the bell catches the light from the sun and reflects outside where Encarna can see it.
Years later, Carmen is a young woman. She still acts as a servant in her father’s house but she is not bitter. While out hanging laundry on a line someone comes from the house to tell her that her father has died. Encarna finally kills Antonio by pushing him down the stairs in his wheelchair. Antonio’s body is dressed in his matador costume and propped up on the couch so a fanfare of people can come and take photos with him. Carmen is the last one to take a photo with him and she is crying.
Encarna soon instructs her driver to take Carmen way out into the woods to pick some flowers. In the woods the driver is to kill Carmen. He tries to strangle her but she manages to get away. The driver catches up to her near a lake and he tries to drown her. Fortunately Carmen does not die. She is saved that night by a young man named Rafita. When Carmen wakes up is in a caravan with a whole bunch of strange little men standing over her. Rafita is part of a traveling act of bullfighting dwarves. She cannot remember her name so they call her Blancancieves, Snow White.
At a show in a small town one of the dwarves is being kicked around by a small bull. Carmen instinctively runs into the ring and begins doing what her father taught her even though she cannot remember who she is and where she came from. Before Carmen knows it she is a famous female bullfighter known throughout Spain. The dwarf she had saved is not happy with her and does not like her at all.
Encarna is now living in Seville with her driver. She had been hoping to make the front page of a popular magazine with photographs showing off her clothes, home, and most importantly her face. She is bumped to a half page by the story of Blancancieves and her incredible rise to fame. Of course Encarna recognizes her old foe and flips out on her driver. He was sitting by the pool and she smashes him in the head. To make it look like an accident she throws his dead body in the pool.
Carmen is scheduled to appear at the same arena as her father in Seville. An old friend of her grandmother’s comes to the stadium. She cannot remember him but something about the man triggers her memory and she remembers everything including her father.
Before the fight the angry dwarf switches out the bull Carmen was supposed to be using with a bull called Satan. He wants to be rid of her once and for all.
As she walks into the arena Carmen nearly has a meltdown and she is nearly killed by the wild bull. Just in time she remembers her father had told her to never take her eyes off the bull. Carmen is able to stare the bull into submission and the crowd asks for the bull’s pardon. The entire arena applauds and cheers for her. Encarna is able to get close enough to Carmen to give her a poisoned apple.
Carmen’s body is put on display as a side show where people come up to see if their kiss will break the spell. Rafita is devastated by this. He loves Carmen and has ever since they met. Carmen loved him too. At night he stays with her in her coffin-like container and kisses her on the lips. A tear falls down the side of Carmen’s face.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved Blancancieves from beginning to end. It was such a perfect movie. It was beautiful and artistic and stunning and wonderful. Visually it was one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen. It reminded me so much of the silent French version of The Fall of the House of Usher and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. It was surrealistic. The acting was exactly like an old silent era film which is to say over the top with emoting but it was not unbearable. The way the story of Snow White was retold in the 1920s in Spain and bullfighters is completely genius. I was floored and enamored by the story. This is how reworkings of well known classic fairy tales should be done.
If there is one movie that I genuinely highly recommend seeing, especially if you love movies that are all around excellently well made or like to call yourself a cinéphile , you must see Blancancieves.