Hopefully The Artist’s cute dog and cuter couple haven’t turned you off to the charms of silent cinema; there’s a whole world of psychosexual weirdness (just as reverent to film’s early years) in store with this Spanish-made riff on Snow White. Bearing an arresting similarity to the outré movies of Tod Browning (Freaks, The Unknown), Pablo Berger’s bullfighting fable builds an impressive head of menace in short order: A celebrated toreador (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is gored in his moment of triumph, spurring his heavily pregnant wife to labor and death. The surviving infant grows into Carmencita (Sofía Oria), one of those self-sufficient girls you often see in Iberian fantasies. Expressively (Berger knows his grammar), a white communion dress is dipped in black dye as her custodial grandmother passes away and an evil castle beckons.
You know the rest, dwarves and all: Y Tu Mamá También’s Maribel Verdú so fully dominates the drama as the gold-digging stepmother—all arched eyebrows and curled lips—that you wonder how much we’ve lost in the transition to sound. She’s a scream. The elegant symmetry of the Grimms’ original plotting dictates that the child will become a threat; the familiarity allows the viewer to be fully immersed in Berger’s visual language (and Alfonso de Vilallonga’s luxuriantly dark score). Guy Maddin pulled off a similar feat with his exquisite retrosilent, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002); maybe our bedtime stories are best seen and not heard.
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