Cast: Macarena Garcia, Maribel Verdu, Daniel Gimenez Gacho, Angela Molina, Inma Cuesta
SUMMARY: Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is the most famous matador in Spain, and is performing in a special show in which he fights seven bulls in succession. In the audience is his pregnant wife, former singer/dancer Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) and her mother (Angela Molina). Everything goes well until Antonio turns his back on the final bull; it charges and gores him, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Upon seeing the attack, Carmen goes into labor. The baby, a girl also named Carmen, is born healthy, but Carmen dies during delivery. Antonio is too broken-hearted to care for the girl, so she is taken in and raised by her maternal grandmother. Antonio soon marries gain, to the woman who was his nurse in the hospital, Encarna (Maribel Verdu). Unfortunately, Encarna has no interest in anything other than Antonio’s money: she immediately sets up house for herself and leaves Antonio alone in his room, confined to his wheelchair. Carmen enjoys a happy childhood with her grandmother, but is troubled by her father’s lack of interest in her. On the day of Carmen’s first communion, her grandmother dies, and Carmen is then sent to live with her father and stepmother. Encarna has no intention of nurturing the child, and forces her to live in a coal cellar and do the hardest chores. She forbids Carmen to go onto the second floor of the house, but when Carmen’s pet chicken Pepe escapes one day she chases him up there. She discovers that Encarna is having an affair with the chauffeur, but she also finds her father’s room.
Over the next few months Carmen continues to sneak into her father’s room, where the two finally form a relationship. Antonio comes to adore his daughter, and teaches her how to bullfight. However, Encarna eventually learns their secret. She puts a stop to the visits, and for several years Carmen has no more contact with her father. Eventually Encarna pushes Antonio’s wheelchair down the stairs, killing him; she then tasks the chauffeur with killing Carmen in the woods. He leaves her for dead in a river, where she is eventually rescued by a dwarf who is part of a group of dwarf bullfighters, Los Enanitos Toreros. Carmen does not remember who she is, so the dwarves call her Blancanieves (Spanish for Snow White) like in the story. During a show, one of the dwarves is injured. Carmen instinctively jumps into the ring and fights the bull using the skills learned from her father (though she does not remember this). The crowd loves Carmen so the dwarves put her into the show, which becomes a huge hit. She is eventually invited to perform in the same famed arena where her father was paralyzed. During the fight Carmen suddenly regains her memory and is stunned by the knowledge. In the meantime, Encarna has learned of Carmen’s new identity, and has come to the bullfight with a poisoned apple, determined to eliminate the one person who can threaten her. Carmen ultimately wins the fight, but takes a bite of the apple during the celebration. She immediately falls to the ground, seemingly dead. Some time later, Carmen (still in her living-death state) has become a carnival sideshow: men pay money to kiss her in the hopes of waking her up. One of the dwarves, the same one who rescued her from the river, stays with her in the carnival; one night, he kisses her. Carmen does not react, but a tear slips down her cheek.
MY TAKE: I actually really enjoyed this movie, which surprised me for two reasons: it’s a really well-known story, and it’s a silent movie. However, both of these aspects were handled perfectly. Though the story is basically the classic Snow White tale, it’s in a completely different setting and culture. This adds interest and humor, and makes it more realistic — Carmen doesn’t clean the dwarves’ house with the help of rodents, for example. The movie is silent and uses subtitles like classic silent movies, but it bears a lot of resemblance to The Artist. Both movies are paced very well, and the acting is superb. I was really disappointed in the ending, since I fully expected Carmen to wake up. I liked that the Prince was replaced with one of the dwarves — it’s a really interesting twist — but he should have been able to wake her up. I was left questioning whether she was actually dead or not; reality would suggest that a “living death” is like a coma, which cannot be broken by true love’s kiss. I began to think that she was actually dead, but then there was that tear at the end. This made me think that she must be alive, but the movie ends right there, stopping us from knowing if she ever wakes up. I was really, really enjoying things until the very end, which sucked.
RATING: Really good; great re-imagining of a classic story.