Tag Archives: Pablo Berger

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013: Pordenone post No 1

Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013
Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013

Hello. Has it really been a whole year since this? Hold on to your bonnets, because we are back in Pordenone and it’s Saturday night. It’s time. To face. The silents.

Which is another way of saying the the 32nd Giornate del Cinema Muto has begun, and just a few hours in, we have have had a sampler of diverse treats to come.

Flickan i frack (1926)
Flickan i frack (1926)

My highlight of the first day comes from Sealed Lips, the Swedish strand of the programme that I had big hopes for. Flickan i Frack (The Girl in Tails, 1926) is essentially a teen rom-com, but one saturated in enough intersectional goodness for a PhD dissertation or two. The population of a small provincial town get themselves into terrible muddles by going about various kinds of drag – dressing up or down socially, mostly, but there is also moral posturing, intellectual pretension and, crucially, some audacious transvestism in the mix. Despite such a heavy burden of subtext and inference, Flickan i Frack is light on its feet, witty and winningly romantic. It was directed by Karin Swanström, better known perhaps as an actress – and it is very much a female-oriented film, from its bright heroine who attends her graduation ball in a man’s dress suit (just to make a point, with seemingly no fear that her boyfriend might dislike it, and looking utterly fabulous) to the malevolent matriarch upon whom her future happiness depends (played brilliant by Swanström) and the “wild herd of learned women” who loiter ambiguously in the background.

Gilly poprvŽ v Praze (1920)
Gilly poprvŽ v Praze (1920)

But I am getting ahead of myself. My first glimpse of the festival, as I scurried in late to the first session, was of Anny Ondra, plonked on a hay cart and throwing a fit. The minutes I caught of Gilly Poprvé v Praze (1920) were a lively, rowdy introduction to the Giornate’s Ondra retrospective. It was also far shorter and sweeter than the following feature. Setrele Písmo (The Missing Letters, 1921), was a messy, rather over-extended and patchy film about (bear with me) two sculptors (one morally lax and successful, the other upstanding and impoverished) the former’s two models (one vengeful and brunette, one blonde and rather dull), a couple of palimpsests, some hidden treasure, the construction industry and public arts funding. Nice funicular sequence. Ondra, in an early and atypical role as the second model, was called on to do little more than pose on a pedestal, play with a puppy and pout prettily. To be fair to the film, as we must, it was the product of a garbled production process, incorporating footage from an earlier movie. No wonder its plot had as many layers as one of those palimpsests.

Continue reading Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013: Pordenone post No 1

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Blancanieves: UK release on 12 July 2013

Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)
Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)

We’ve been waiting for this news as patiently as Snow White awaited her kiss of life – and here, in the shape of StudioCanal, is our Prince Charming. Pablo Berger’s utterly gorgeous, slightly twisted, Gothic fairytale Blancanieves gets a UK release on 12 July 2013. I have been intrigued by this film since we first heard about it in March 2012, and in October last year when I saw it at the London Film Festival, I became smitten. If you saw it then, or at the recent Ciné Lumière screening, you’ll know what I mean.

Blancanieves is a silent, black-and-white film – a loose adaptation of Snow White set in 1920s Spain. There is a poisoned apple, a wicked stepmother (brilliantly played by Maribel Verdú) and a coterie of dwarves, but also bull-fighting, flamenco and a pet cockerel called Pépé. It’s a beautifully accomplished homage to European silent cinema (at the screening I attended, the director paid tribute to everyone from Abel Gance to our own Anthony Asquith) and at the same time satisfyingly rich and quirky – this is a very hard film to categorise. The cinematography is at times exquisite, and the score, by Alfonso de Vilallonga, is fantastic. As yet, I don’t know whether we can expect a full or limited release – but if you love silent cinema, and Blancanieves is playing near you, you really should go to see it.

Until then, feast your eyes on this:

Blancanieves (2012): London film festival review

Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)
Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)

You may feel weary at the prospect of another love-letter to the silent era. You may feel fatigued by the thought of another Snow White movie. Wait, though – nothing should deter you from seeking out this intriguing, gorgeous film. Director Pablo Berger describes his Blancanieves as a “homage to European silent cinema”, but happily, it has the confidence to wear its influences lightly and transform them into something new, magical and utterly distinctive.

Blancanieves is a sharp, heady cocktail of fairytales, Spanish iconography and silent cinema: a black-and-white film with gorgeous musical accompaniment that tells the story of Carmen, whose matador father remarries after her flamenco dancer mother dies in childbirth. But if you’re expecting a straight 1920s-set adaptation of Snow White, you will be wrongfooted right to the bittersweet end. When we finally encounter the dwarves, we find they’re bullfighters, they’re not all sweet, and there aren’t quite seven of them. A celebrity magazine takes the place of a magic mirror, the wicked stepmother indulges in S&M with her chauffeur and the young heroine’s best friend is a neckerchief-wearing rooster called Pépé.

Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves (2012)
Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves (2012)

Carmen is no fairytale princess either, but in both her younger (Sofía Oria) and older (Macarena Garciá) incarnations, she is a serious, lonely young woman on a tragic path – both actresses share intense, dark eyes, which Berger makes the utmost of. Maribel Verdú turns in a wickedly funny pantomime performance as her scheming stepmother – although it often feels as if she is in a different, more histrionic, film to everyone else – and Daniel Giménez Cacho is heartbreaking as the destroyed father. Plaudits must also go to the rooster, or rather his handler. There may never have been a cuter cockerel in the cinema.

So why is Blancanieves a silent film? Perhaps it’s because in this version the girl’s parents are both wordless performers, in old-fashioned artforms. Her grandmother teaches her to dance, and her first encounter with bullfighting is via the flickering images of a praxinoscope. Berger also says he was inspired by a screening of Greed with Carl Davis’s orchestral score, and by silent film-makers including Sjöstrom, Herbier, Murnau and our own Anthony Asquith. Whatever the cause, it’s an artistic choice that pays dividends.

Sofía Oria in Blancanieves (2012)
Sofía Oria in Blancanieves (2012)

This is no pastiche, although I will admit I could have lived without the Instagram-style rough edge to the Academy frame, a bafflingly naff decision considering the film’s visual achivements: sumptuous photography, and impressionistic editing. There’s so much here that recalls the silent era – a clatter of flashcuts, the rustic faces in the crowd, superimpositions, irises and a restrained number of intertitles – but it feels modern too, with lovely soft light washing over the interiors and nimble, intimate handheld camerawork. There’s nothing in Blancanieves’ exquisite cinematography that could not have been achieved in the 1920s, but its strength is that it never feels anachronistic or nostalgic. And those sumptuous images tell the story too, as when Carmen’s first-communion dress is plunged into a tub of black dye, or she sees Pépé’s face hovering on her dinner plate.

With such riches at his disposal, I almost wish Berger had made a more serious film than this twisted fairytale, which occasionally veers into camp. Blancanieves is a strange piece of work, but a precious one, however, so even if it lacks ambition, its integrity and beauty are to be treasured.

Blancanieves screens as part of the London film festival at the ICA on 18 October. You can book tickets here

Blancanieves (2012): teaser trailer

I wrote about this silent Spanish adaptation of Snow White a few weeks ago, but now we have some footage to whet our appetites. Blancanieves is a new film by Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73) and it’s a modern silent, set in the world of bullfighting in 1920s/30s Madrid.

Maribel Verdú plays the wicked stepmother, and Macarena García our heroine, the first Snow White I have ever seen face off with an angry bull. The dwarves are bullfighters too, as you’ll see in this Spanish teaser trailer.

According to this article from El Pais, Berger was inspired by watching Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed and the film contains some references to Carl Th Dreyer and Abel Gance also. The lush music you can hear, at least some of it is composed by Alfonso Vilallonga, and yes, they do plan some live orchestral screenings of the film before its theatrical release.

Speaking of which, we only have a Spanish release date for the film so far: 28 September 2012, bang on schedule for a debut at the San Sebastian film festival.

So what do you think? I reckon this could be quite special…

The silent Snow White: Blancanieves (2012)

Blancanieves
Blancanieves

You may have read somewhere or other that 2012 is the year of silent cinema. Well, wouldn’t that be nice? Far more certain to be an influence on your multiplex visits this year are a beautiful princess, a wicked stepmother and a poisoned apple. But silent cinema should still get a look-in.

The first of 2012’s adaptations of Snow White, with Julia Roberts as the vain queen and Lily Collins as her red-lipped, fair-skinned stepdaughter will be released in time for the Easter holidays on 2 April. Mirror Mirror is a family film, but it’s a modern twist on the fairytale, which gives Miss White a few more exciting tasks than whistling while she works. Judging by the trailer, she spends most of her time swordfighting with her bandit-dwarf chums and giving Prince Charming a spot of sass.

Released later in the summer, on 1 June, Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, more violent version of the fairy tale, with Kristen Stewart as the heroine and Charlize Theron as the queen. There are buckets of CG effects in this one and the whole thing has a gritty Twilight-meets-Lord of the Rings vibe, although some of Theron’s scenes look uncannily like a certain perfume ad. This film tweaks the plot even further than Mirror Mirror, with Snow White as a chainmail-clad warrior on a mission to kill the queen. Chris “Thor” Hemsworth plays the hunky huntsman.

There’s even a TV Snow White in the States. Once Upon a Time is made by American broadcaster ABC and stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the long-lost daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, trying to rescue a town of fairy-tale characters from a curse.

Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves
Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves

But enough of the talkies. The Snow White movie I’m really excited about this year hasn’t had a fraction of the publicity of those other flicks. In fact, it hasn’t got a UK release date yet, but it will debut on 28 September 2012 in its home country. Blancanieves is a Spanish film, directed by Pablo Berger, and it’s a Gothic horror-cum-melodrama, which retells the Snow White story in 1930s Madrid. From what I can gather, young Carmen has been tormented from childhood by her vile stepmother, so she escapes to the woods where she joins a troupe of dwarf bullfighters. Maribel Verdú plays the older woman, and Macarena García the younger. Did I forget to mention that it is a silent film? And black-and-white to boot. Splendid.

Berger’s previous feature film, which appeared nine years ago, Torremolinos 73, was a very different beast: a comedy about a man who wants to make arty films but gets into pornography instead. That at least proves he’s no stranger to taking a commercial risk. I really like the suitably Gothic approach he is taking to one of the Brothers Grimm’s nastiest tales, and this gallery of production stills on Facebook suggests that Blancanieves will be a truly gorgeous film. If you need another reason to get your hopes up, back in 2009 the Blancanieves script won a special award at Sundance to help fund the finished film.

There’s something else a little special about Blancanieves, though. The score for the movie is by Oscar-winning composer Alberto Iglesias, who has written for films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener, as well as several of Almodóvar’s works. The wonderful news is that, according to the stories I have read, Blancanieves will complete a tour of cinemas with live orchestral accompaniment before its theatrical release. We’re still waiting for The Artist to do the same, though such a jaunt is in the works, we hear.

It’s facetious to draw comparisons at this stage with that other European monochrome silent, but I’m tickled pink to see this outsider muscling into what has been pitched as a battle between two blockbusters. There is always room for a silent film or two to cleanse our palates of all that too-familiar fare.

So which is the fairest of them all? Only time will tell, but I clearly already have a favourite – and a fairytale ending in mind. The other question is, how will Blancanieves compare to the whimsical 1916 Snow White, starring Marguerite Clark:


Read more about Blancanieves here. Thanks to the wonderful Nobody Knows Anybody blog for first alerting me to the film.