If you’re going to see a silent black and white film set in the 1920s then the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley is the place to do it – it’s over 100 years old, and looks pretty much like it did when it opened. Seeing a film there feels like you’re really seeing a film, there are no bells and whistles, you’re doing what thousands of cinemagoers have been doing for years. Paying your money, taking your seat and being swallowed up into another world for a couple of hours.
And what a world Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves draws you into. Beautiful, tragic and quite wonderful, this is one of those films that remind you of all the reasons you love the movies. It’s perhaps unfairly being compared to The Artist (which I loved beyond reason), and it’s not hard to see why – there’s the same attention to detail, an equally magical score, cinematography that makes every frame a work of art and costumes that sparkle even in black and white. (Worth mentioning that this was in development long before The Artist appeared and apparently Berger was a bit peed off to have been beaten to the punch.)
Blancanieves is Spanish for Snow White – and this is a dark and quite woeful reimagining of the fairy tale complete with dwarves (albeit only six of them) and an evil stepmother. Carmencita’s mother died in childbirth and her father is confined to a wheelchair after an unfortunate incident with a bull (go bull, I say). He has, of course, married his nurse – the wickedly glamorous Encarta who is not delighted at being lumbered with an impossibly gorgeous stepchild. Not delighted at all.
Circumstances bring the teenage Carmencita together with a troupe of bullfighting dwarves, and she joins this merry bunch on their travels – one of whom resents her for stealing all the glory and another, the rather dashing Rafita (Sergio Dorado), gazes adoringly at her from the moment they meet. Cue a fairytale ending, maybe.
There appeared to be some sort of old ladies’ outing in my screening, one of whom exclaimed loudly at every dramatic moment and two of whom declared loudly at the end that they hadn’t enjoyed it at all. Maybe they dropped off in the middle, maybe they found the ending a bit too dark (it is, but it’s perfect) or maybe they expected the feel good factor of The Artist in which case I can see why they might have been disappointed. Although there is an Uggie – sort of.
If a little long, it’s easy to lose yourself in Blancanieves‘ wonderful world of loss, longing and amazing mascara (seriously, Carmen could probably have mesmerised the bulls into submission by simply batting her eyelashes at them). See it on the big screen (in a 100-year-old cinema ideally) for the full glorious effect.
Anyway, I’m off to town now to try out some new mascaras and buy a nice swishy cape.
BULL SPOILER: If you’re worried about the bulls, which to be honest I was quite a lot, then don’t be. They all survive. And you don’t see the blood in black and white anyway, thankfully.