Pablo Berger brings a film buff’s love for detail to this ode to 1920s silent cinema, an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow White” set in ’20s Andalusia. When a famous toreador (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is gored in the ring, his pregnant wife goes into labor from the shock and dies after delivering the baby. A scheming nurse (Maribel Verdu) seduces and marries the now crippled toreador, and this evil stepmom keeps his daughter Carmen (Inma Cuesta) from him. An attempted murder in the woods follows, with Carmen rescued by a group of dwarves, who are bullfighters themselves and take Carmen under their wing. The ending, however, finds no Prince Charming arriving to save the day.
Berger’s film is of a piece with last year’s hit “The Artist”: a gorgeous evocation of silent-era filmmaking, studied in the lighting, editing and performance styles of the period. Image by image, it’s a striking film that has mastered the language of purely visual storytelling. Yet just like “The Artist,” it feels somewhat anachronistic, wallowing in the past instead of adding anything new. The slightly twee humor and the exaggerated, highly theatrical acting are from an earlier, more naive era of cinema, and you’ll either fall under the film’s retro spell or you won’t.