A Grimm Fairy Tale: Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves (2013) Between Surrealism and Expressionism

Expressionism has long haunted our collective memory with thrillers like Dr. Calgary’s Cabinet, The Golem, and Nosferatu, where elongated shadows and sinister beings lurk in the dark, creating a grotesquely deformed aesthetic. Like its modernist kin, Surrealism has a predilection for the night and grim happenings, yet often conveyed a sense of beauty amid its preoccupation with death and desire. Both movements were in vogue during the 1920s, in which Berger sets his cinematographically stunning remake of Snow White, Blancanieves. Fusing fairy-tale, silent film, and film noir, the work resounds with the tragedy of modern life, even as it exhibits a uniquely Spanish vision populated by dashing bullfighters and beautiful flamenco singers. At the same time the movie employs many conventions of melodrama, a genre often associated with silent film; yet, instead of producing a brief emotional response among the audience, Blancanieves takes on a more serious tone, pervaded with nostalgia, melancholy, and alienation, which is more in keeping with tragedy. This seemingly timeless and apolitical Snow White has been interpreted in a number of ways. However, at its heart, Berger’s Blancanieves contains a note of rebellion and social critique in concert with Surrealism and Expressionism. Through exaggeratedly emblematic symbols of Spain in the exotic Andalusian countryside, the film meditates upon what it means to be Spanish and the legacy of the 1920s.

Track: 

  • Spanish Peninsular Studies