As an exercise in style and as a valentine to early filmmaking, this silent-movie pastiche is unquestionably gorgeous, lush with creamy black-and-white photography and bursting with passion, both from the characters onscreen and from writer-director Pablo Berger, who presents a familiar tale with a wondrous air of freshness and newfound intimacy. A 1920s Spanish twist on Snow White, it posits a rich and famous bullfighter paralyzed in the ring (Daniel Giménez Cacho), the daughter his wife died giving birth to, and the nurse (Maribel Verdú: Pan’s Labyrinth) who wormed her wily way into his griefstricken heart when he was at his most vulnerable emotionally as well as physically. Now, sweet young Carmencita (adorable Sofía Oria) suffers horrible abuse at the hands of her wicked stepmother; later, teen Carmen (Macarena García) will follow in her father’s matador footsteps with the help of a band of intrepid showman dwarfs. The well-beaten path of the tale is beautifully suited to the silent format, which utilizes only a few intercards, and even they are barely needed: the deviations from the traditional fairy tale are laden with potent symbolism of their own, and we are instantly struck with their power and poignancy. The almost overwhelmingly marvelous score, by Alfonso de Vilallonga, soars with the kind of feeling that wraps you up in the escapist fervor of cinema. If you’ve forgotten why you feel in love with movies, this will remind you, and rekindle your romance.
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