It took Spanish helmer Pablo Berger a decade to get his second feature made; and no wonder, since it’s a highly stylized modern silent-film retelling of SNOW WHITE. No surprise it turns out to be just the sort of prize-worthy, over-cooked, artsy film-fest entry you feared it’d be. BIG surprise that shortly past the halfway mark, six bullfighting dwarfs show up to help make the film everything you hoped it might be. How’d that happen? Simply put, Berger overloads his first act with one precious shot after another, you ‘oo’ and ‘ah,’ but worry about the cost of the frame. Couldn't we just move along? With so little filmmaking experience, he’s no whiz at setting up situations or clarifying action; and risibly kick-starting FATE with an ill-timed, but obviously needless flash photo at a bullfight when its Andalusian high noon. Meantime, silent film buffs will scoff at his unending use of ‘clever’ camera placements, optical tricks and lens choices. But once those gentlemanly little bullfighters come to Damsel’s rescue, the panting & flourishes recede and the narrative drive takes off. The film stops trying to revive Expressionist manners and runs more along the lines of classic Hollywood adventure pics, not so far from Rouben Mamoulian’s kinetic, nearly danceable MARK OF ZORRO/’40. And Berger tops it all off with a terrific coda that threads the needle between enigmatic and sentimental.
DOUBLE-BILL: While Mamoulian’s ZORRO strikes a similar tone, his luscious, TechniColored BLOOD AND SAND/’41 is the more obvious pairing, even as it reverses BLANCANIEVES by working best in its first half. For a silent film pairing, there's the superb grotesquerie of Paul Leni's THE MAN WHO LAUGHS/'28.