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"espinazo del diablo (devil's backbone)" (2001) - guillermo del toro
posted on 24-Aug-2002 by anton
this is nicely built and beautifully shot story, produced by Pedro Almodóvar, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. a mystical tale set in 1939, with the absurdity and brutality of those times, that will undeniably bring comparisons with magic realism of marquez with his contrast of beautiful and macabre (not to mention the language similarity).

as with marquez, there is a streak of absurdity in everything - starting from the opening sequence, the one that grabbed me a few months ago when I saw the trailer - a scorched desert and a bit mansion in the middle of it, with a huge aviation bomb stuck in the center of the yard, with its unresolved tension, splitting the world apart, waiting and building the suspense. this absurdity is almost symbolic and quite poetic, with the quality of a surrealist painting (or take the professors whiskey that ages in the jars with the fetuses, or the wooden leg of the his mistress).

it is nice to see that together with a few very cleanly cut black and white characters (and I suppose this is what you get when you start using children), there are episodes when you see a human nature in the grown-ups (the teacher ashamed of her leg, as much as she is ashamed of her body with its demands). the fact that film director uses kids makes up for a much more effective delivery; the episode when they have to gather up the dead and take care of the wounded, or a few others make your insides tighten up into a knot, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat.

the set design and the cinematography are everything here - the contrast of blue skies and the desert, the gritty textures of the old house; the amazing lightning with its bold shadows, shot in dark blue hues; the fetishism of retro designs of the 40s, when the camera isolates single elements (the scissors, clothing, music, furniture, school supplies). even the usual elements of suspense seem to be in place, when your mind does not cringe, does not feel shamelessly manipulated).

described to someone that has not seen this film, it might seem to be based on bricks of simple emotions, put together to entertain you and get some emotional response. yes, it is not intricate storytelling, but the way it was shot, presented and put together makes it really worth mentioning. I have savored every minute of its visuals and let my mind indulge in its raw, simple beauty - anything else set in these surroundings would seem pretentious and superficial.

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