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Anti-fairytale movie without images sets out to subvert the essence of the film experience, but instead just poisons and kills it - from the 53rd International Film Festival Rotterdam


What you see just above is not an error. The picture is a film still. The screen is indeed entirely black throughout almost the entire duration of this 70-minute “film”, except for brief footage of clouds, a tree, a dead woman on the snow, a red curtain and a baby blue screen. And I did not forget to attribute a rating to this film. This is my first zero-splat review ever. Never before did I consider bestowing such dubious honour upon a film. I’m now firmly convinced that I found a deserving “winner”.

Some directors have found a good reason to use extended imageless moments in their pictures. Jonathan Glazer bookends his masterpiece The Zone of Interest (2023) with two intense moments of complete darkness combined with complex sound engineering in order transport viewers into his disturbing reality and back. Such is not the case in Stanley Schtinter’s film. The lack of pictures here fulfils no purpose. The entirely gratuitous (and extremely cheap) antics aim to subvert the experience of filmgoing, but it ends up poisoning and killing it (much like Snow White and the apple, except that there is no possibility of resurrection here).. Schneewittchen may have worked as an audio book or an art installation, but it certainly doesn’t as a “film”. In fact, it doesn’t even deserve the cinematic accolade.

An English language remake of João César Monteiro’s equally austere Branca de Neve (2000), this French-British co-production consists of conversations between Snow White (voiced by Stacy Martin), the Prince (Toby Jones), the hunter (Hanns Zischler) and the Queen (Julie Christie).The twist here is that the resurrected Snow White seeks to make peace with the Queen. The programme blurb describes the dialogues as “passionate lovemaking”, yet the reality couldn’t be more different. The delivery is stilted and unemotional. It is evident – particularly in the case of the protagonist – that the actors are reading from a script. There is no foley and hardly any sound design (except for some wind, rain and chirping, which aren’t even connected to narrative). These choices may be intentional. Perhaps Schtinter wishes to achieve some sort of Brechtian alienation or Godard-style disengagement. The problem is that without the moving image these devices simply do not work.

Literature is conducive to imagination. Schneewittchen isn’t. The barely intelligible story won’t enrapture you. I was paying more attention to the gentleman sitting next to me fiddling with his hair, to the reflection of the emergency light on the blank screen, and to the numerous casualties that stood up and left the cinema, than to the nuts and bolts of this “anti-fairytale”. I could hardly make out what was happening and not for a second my brain was coerced into crafting images for this bizarre story.

On the positive side, Schneewittchen would probably make cheapest audio description for the blind and the visually impaired in the history of cinema. What a sterling achievement!

Schneewittchen just premiered at the 53rd International Film Festival Rotterdam.

By Victor Fraga - 29-01-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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