Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Blancanieves

Review Date: 12-23-12

Release Date:

Runtime: 104 minutes

Period: 1920s-ish, Spain

Costume Designer: Paco Delgado

Okay, if you think that Les Misérables has great costumes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Paco Delgado, the designer of Les Mis, hits a homerun with the silent, black-and-white (Spanish) adaptation of the Snow White story, Blancanieves. Let’s put it this way – his is the first in the main title credits. That says something. This is masterful work, and for me, his breathtaking work on Les Mis pales in comparison to his absolutely genius work in Blancanieves.

Okay, so far this year, there have been three major film versions of this story (Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, and this one) PLUS at least two TV shows (Grimm and Once Upon a Time) dealing with the same material.  So what sets Blancanieves apart?  The Snow White story here is told generally – there are some story points missing (like the magic mirror character, and the fact that there are only six dwarves instead of seven) – but people, this isn’t your mama’s Snow White. For one thing, it’s set in the world of bullfighting. Yes, matadors, toros, and people screaming OLÉ!!

Snow White's mother and grandmother at the big Sevilla fight.  Note the white mantillas - gorgeous.

Snow White's mother and grandmother at the big Sevilla fight. Note the white mantillas - gorgeous.

Snow White’s dad (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a matador. He takes center stage at the arena in Sevilla as his pregnant wife (Inma Cuesta) watches. For an instant, he takes his eyes off the bull. He is gored and trampled. Pregnant wife goes into early labor. Both are taken to the hospital and mom dies while delivering the baby, Snow White.  Dad lives, but is paralyzed.

Young Snow White dances with her grandmother

Young Snow White dances with her grandmother. Look at those fabrics. WOW.

Dad resents the baby for having taken his wife’s life. The nurse attending him at the hospital (Maribel Verdú – you might know her from Pan’s Labyrinth) schemes to become his new wife, coveting his fortune. Young Snow White (Sofía Oria) is raised by her maternal grandmother (Ángela Molina), who treats her with love and teaches her to dance like her mother. When Snow White’s grandmother dies, she is sent to live with her dad (now a recluse) and her evil stepmother.

The same white dress as above, DYED BLACK after her grandmother dies.  Absolutely brilliant.

The same white dress as above, DYED BLACK after her grandmother dies. Absolutely brilliant.

Evil stepmother chops off her hair and has her live in a dark, dirty cellar, doing menial work instead of enjoying her childhood. Young Snow White is forbidden from setting foot in the second floor or the palatial house (where her dad lives), but her wandering pet rooster leads her up there anyway. She finally meets her father and they forge a loving bond. Dad even teaches her how to fight bulls.

Postmortem photography seems macabre, but was once considered quite normal.

Postmortem photography seems macabre, but was once considered quite normal.

Meanwhile, the evil stepmother’s greed and vanity amplifies as Snow White soon grows into a beautiful young woman (Macarena García). Evil Stepmother pushes dad down the stairs, killing him. The dead matador is propped up on a couch and people take pictures with him – a macabre tradition of postmortem photography – it’s grisly, but hilarious. Snow White is the only one who truly, demonstrably grieves for him. Evil Stepmother wastes no time in spending her dead husband’s money on new clothes and furniture for the estate, in hopes of getting a prestigious spread in a glossy magazine.

The six - not seven - dwarves.

The six - not seven - dwarves.

After Evil Stepmother sends a henchman to kill her, Snow White escapes (suffering amnesia from the trauma) and joins up with a team of six rodeo dwarves – some of whom are clowns, others are matadors. At a stop in a small town, she jumps into the ring to save one of them and proves her toreo skills. She joins the group as a matador in her own right. She’s a natural – her fame grows. Evil Stepmother reads about Snow White’s toreo skills in the magazine she’d courted. Snow White gets the cover; Evil Stepmother gets a paragraph. She seethes.

Snow White on the cover of the magazine. Evil Stepmother is not happy about it.

Snow White on the cover of the magazine. Evil Stepmother is not happy about it.

Snow White gets an opportunity to prove her bull fighting skills in Sevilla – at the same coliseum where her dad fought. A jealous member of the dwarf troupe switches the calf she is supposed to fight with a giant bull named “Satan”. The evil stepmother shows up at the arena wearing a black mantilla, bearing a poisoned apple. Snow White faces down this monstrous bull, and the fight ends amazingly. And you know how the rest of it goes – Snow White eats the apple and falls into a coma.

Evil Stepmother in black lace mantilla prepares to give Snow White the poisoned apple.

Evil Stepmother in black lace mantilla prepares to give Snow White the poisoned apple.

…Only the ending of this film is very different. You’ll have to see it to find out what happens, but I was really surprised!!

Evil Stepmother poses for the magazine.

Evil Stepmother poses for the magazine. I mean, the costumes, the production design, the lighting - it's SO fabulous.

The costumes here are superb. Without the benefit of sound or sound effects, the glory of the movie is all visual. The score is great, don’t get me wrong, but the visuals – costumes and production design – are so magical and well done… it’s just jaw dropping.

Snow White's dad in full toreador regalia.

Snow White's dad in full toreador regalia.

First of all, let’s talk about the matador costumes. They are spectacular, vintage, form fitting, regal, and absolutely gorgeous.

I mean, come on.  This is superb costume design.

I mean, come on. This is superb costume design.

Now, let’s talk about matador costumes on little people. And one of them is a tranny. Come on, is Paco Delgado the luckiest costume designer on earth or WHAT?! The opportunity to design this film, this material – it is a real gift. This is a case of luck and opportunity meeting major skill and talent. This is a fabulous opportunity for a fabulous designer. Observe.

Edward Steichen's famous 1924 photo of Gloria Swanson serves as inspiration for Evil Stepmother.

Edward Steichen's 1924 photo of Gloria Swanson serves as inspiration for Evil Stepmother.

The homage to Edward Steichen’s famous photo at the final bullfight is magnificent. Evil Stepmother’s mantilla veil is insane. In fact, all of her costumes are insane – what a great character to bring to life. Nothing is left undesigned in this movie. Every I is dotted; every T is crossed.

This lady is in charge, wearing menswear inspired lines.

This lady is in charge, wearing menswear inspired lines.

The use of neckties on the Evil Stepmother is remarkable. She is the one who wears the pants in the family after Dad is paralyzed… and the use of strong male silhouettes and conventions with her is genius. For the fact that this film takes place in the 1920s, her long skirts and severe lines give a nod to an earlier time.

Snow White's simple beauty - humble yet dignified.

Snow White's simple beauty - humble yet dignified.

For as fashion conscious as the Evil Stepmother is, Snow White is simple and beautiful. Her boyish haircut (a remnant of her youth) cannot throw shade on her beauty. Truly, she is a spectacularly beautiful young woman, perfectly cast in this role. To see her in her matador costume – she cuts a fine silhouette – it’s magnificent.

Snow White in the final bullfight.

Snow White in the final bullfight.

Crowds and background are also gorgeous – the age and tech on these costumes is dirty and real. Everyone looks perfect. It’s really a fabulous, fabulous job they’ve done here.

The crowds are lovely.

The crowds are lovely.

The movie is silent… but to be honest with you, I didn’t even notice. It was totally engaging and so beautiful to watch. You don’t miss dialogue here. This is a “must-see” movie as far as costumes go, so be sure to catch it when it comes to your town this spring. Dates are fluid at this point, but I will update you when they nail it down. It’s such a treat to watch.

Evil Stepmother hunting...

Evil Stepmother hunting...

Good work, Paco and crew – you’ve outdone yourselves here with Blancanieves. Congratulations on completely reinventing this story. It is truly a breath of fresh air!

- KMB

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