The Devil's Backbone (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] [Import]
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The most personal film by Guillermo del Toro (Cronos) is also among his most frightening and emotionally layered. Set during the final week of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil�s Backbone tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy who, after his freedom-fighting father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets. Del Toro effectively combines gothic ghost story, murder mystery, and historical melodrama in a stylish concoction that reminds us�as would his later Pan�s Labyrinth�that the scariest monsters are often the human ones. DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES � New 2K digital film restoration, approved by director Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition � Audio commentary featuring Del Toro � Video introduction by Del Toro from 2010 � New interviews with Del Toro about the process of creating the ghost Santi and the drawings and designs made in preparation for the film � �Que es un fantasma?, a 2004 making-of documentary � Spanish Gothic, a 2010 interview with Del Toro about the genre and its influence on his work � Interactive director�s notebook, with Del Toro�s drawings and handwritten notes, along with interviews with the filmmaker � Four deleted scenes, with optional commentary � New featurette about the Spanish Civil War as evoked in the film � Program comparing Del Toro�s thumbnail sketches and Carlos Gim�nez�s storyboards with the final film � Selected on-screen presentation of Del Toro�s thumbnail sketches alongside the sections of the final film they represent (Blu-ray edition only) � Trailer � New English subtitle translation � PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Mark Kermode
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Yes, it has some supernatural elements, but its heart is a dark, sad coming of age story.
It does start off slow, but the story is worth every minute. Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes are beyond brilliant.
Perfect? No, but a VERY worthy sibling to its sister project, Pan's Labyrinth.
A solid 4 stars.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But way back in in 2001, del Toro made a movie that serves as a sport of ghost-story prequel to "Pan's Labyrinth." With its mysterious specter, innocent hero and a story set during a bloody civil war, "The Devil's Backbone" is a unique kind of horror movie -- it deftly sidesteps the cheap tricks and scares that most ghost stories employ.
Unaware that his father has been killed, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) thinks that he's being left at a remote orphanage only temporarily. Kindly Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) sympathizes with the lonely new boy, but Carlos soon is distracted from his troubles. He keeps seeing shadows, footprints and falling pitchers -- and when he wanders down into the vaulted cellar, he catches a glimpse of a silent ghost with a bleeding head wound. Even worse, the ghost -- which was a boy named Santi -- informs him that many people there will die.
But the most dangerous one at the orphanage is the brutal former-orphan Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who is searching for a cache of hidden gold. As Carlos tries to figure out how Santi died -- and what angry, miserable Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) has to do with it -- the orphanage is suddenly turned into an explosive war zone. As Dr. Casares tries to protect the remaining boys, Carlos discovers the reason Santi died -- and what he wants now.
"The Devil's Backbone" is a movie filled with death: the orphanage is a dying institution in a time of war, filled with orphans and surrounded by sun-burnt grass. It even has a defused torpedo stuck right in the middle of the courtyard. By the time the ghost shows up, it seems like almost a natural part of such a ruined, quietly sorrowful place.
Fortunately Guillermo del Toro avoids cheap scares -- the ghost doesn't make weird noises or leap out at Carlos for no reason. Instead he evokes the fear of a child in a dark, creaky old house who is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that there's something out there. Also some beautifully creepy visuals, such as blood floating in the air as if it were in water.
But the whole creepy-ghostly-factor is eclipsed about halfway through the movie. After a slow buildup of tension, everything suddenly erupts when Jacinto suddenly reveals his true self. Suddenly we've got explosions, blood, shattered glass, mangled bodies and an all-too human enemy who is slowly closing in. It makes the ghostly Santi seem suddenly very... nonthreatening.
And though the plot seems simple, del Toro spins a spiderweb of interconnected hints and plot threads -- comic books, slug collections, a wooden leg and blood-tinged water all come into play. There's loads of symbolism, and the beautiful scenes (Dr. Casares' final poetry recital to Carmen) are handled just as powerfully as the more gory, ghastly ones (the orphans' final assault).
It's kind of amazing that this was Tielve's movie debut, because he's simply incredible -- his character slides through fear, courage, sorrow and confusion, all with a kind of unshakable innocence. Garcés is equally good; at first he seems like a mere bully, but we gradually see how troubled and guilty he feels over what happened to Santi. Noriega is thoroughly nasty as a greedy, sociopathic thug who cares about nobody except himself (even his fiancee), while Luppi is a kindly, cultured old man who obviously loves the boys as if they were his own.
I can't think of a better movie to receive a Criterion release, and there's a decent showing of material in this new release -- new subtitle translations and film restoration; a booklet by Mark Kermode; audio commentary, video introduction and new interviews with del Toro himself; older interviews; a making-of documentary; storyboards and concept sketches compared to the final film; deleted scenes with commentary; del Toro's notes, and so on.
"The Devil's Backbone" is a haunting kind of ghost story, where the ghost is not the scariest thing you'll see. A powerful, striking movie.
The transfer for "The Devil's Backbone" tooks absolutely stunning for this 2001 film. Detail is exceptional and there is no overuse of digital noise reduction. The film looks quite nice in its high def debute.
The lossless 5.1 audio also sounds terrific. This doesn't feature an English dubbed version but does feature English subtitles.
The special feaatures are a highlight on this set. We get an introduction by del Toro (in English), del Toro's 2004 commentary from the Sony release, deleted scenes, sketches, a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary (that is excellent)as well as a 15 minute interview with del Toro discussing the creation of one of the most memorable characters in the film. We also get an excellent featurette on the designs for the film featuring del Toro.
We also get "Director's Notebook" an interactive feature that allows us to dig in to the director's notes on the film. "Spanish Gothic" is an interview with del Toro, deleted scenes, a series of side-by-side comparisons of del Toro's thumbnail illustrations and the finished film. We also get a brief featurette with Spanish Civil War historian Sebastian Faber and the trailer for the film. As with all Criterion editions, this features a booklet with an essay on the making of the film.
An exceptional film from director del Toro, this edition of "The Devil's Backbone" is an improved on Sony's 2004 release and is recommended.
This movie centers on a group of orphans whose parents are off fighting, or dead, as a result of the civil war. The children all reside in an orphanage, run by an old doctor and teacher, where they are taught and fed, as best as possible.
Whats beautiful about the movie is how, like Pan's Labyrinth, it explores the trauma of war on the arguably innocent bystanders in the conflict. The children take center stage. However, even as they act and slowly unravel the mystery surrounding the orphanage their fate is being decided by the adults around them - as it always has been. Its this lack of agency and exposure to the death and destruction of the war - the dud bomb sitting in the courtyard of the orphanage being a constant reminder of this - that haunts the children throughout the film.
I loved the setting and the visuals of this film, as I do with all the del Toro films I have seen. The scenery is so convincing that it would be easy to assume this is an accurate depiction of Spain in the 1930s, without any prior knowledge. As always, the horror and Gothic elements that del Toro constantly employs show up. Its this atmosphere that makes the film so enticing. The ability to create and maintain this distinct world from the first shot while simultaneously telling an engaging multi-layered story is a master's feat.
The movie is well acted, in particular Federico Luppi is brilliant. His performance as the old doctor, who constantly reminds the viewer and the boys that this tale is about revenge as much as trauma and war is as well done as any performance I've seen in theaters this year.
Apart from the obvious comparison to Pan's Labyrinth, which is a continuation, or companion piece, to this movie, I found myself being reminded of 1970s and 80s Mexican melodramas, specifically The Castle of Purity. There is a sense of the claustrophobic atmosphere of that film here. A doom seems to loom over all who leave this safety of the orphanage, yet salvation, transformation, and a future only seems to exist in the outside world.
On top of this, the film plays on the Peter Pan concept of the 'Lost Boys.' Everything from the title (about children who should have never been born), their lack of parents, purpose, and innocence marks these boys as 'lost.' This comparison is cemented by the last scene of the film as the boys limp out of the orphanage's gates.
Finally, let me say the Mike Mignola box art for this movie is beautiful!
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It is a well-executed atmospheric supernatural horror film about death, trauma, and revenge. All of del Toro's brilliant abilities are on display as he creates a distinct moment in time and a thought-provoking narrative. Its worth a watch.
Check out more reviews of Criterion Collection movies at criterioncabaret . blogspot . com
We are asked a question at the beginning of The Devil's Backbone. We are asked to provide the film with the definition of a ghost. This will be a query that will last the entire film. In 2001 director Guillermo Del Toro gave us his most intimate, disturbing, and powerful film, The Devil's Backbone. It is a ghost story about people who are used to being haunted. It is about people who are used to the chill. The film takes place in an orphanage, a home for lost and unwanted boys. We think of the scene where the good Dr. Cesares is explaining what a devil's backbone actually is to one of the orphaned boys. He explains that a devil's backbone is what the locals in town use when referring to the visible and rocky spines of stillborns and aborted fetuses. He says that the locals believe that these fetuses were destined to be nobody's children, children that shouldn't have been born. Cesares also explains that the liquid used to suspend the fetuses in jars is called "limbo water".
Now... I don't really have to go into all that and analyze it for several unnecessary paragraphs, right? I mean, we can all agree how blunt and straight forward Cesare was being. If not, in short, Cesare was using a parable to provoke pathos. The children abandoned at the orphanage can be viewed in much the same way as the the fetuses in the jars. Suspended in "limbo water", the world ignorant, wishing they had never been born for no one wants them.
I think that this film best makes use of Del Toro's unique style. The maestro of the macabre is in full form here and his talents are on full display. Del Toro is a very fantastical filmmaker with a one-of-a-kind imagination. Sui generis. He has been gifted with a distinctive voice and the amazing ability to coherently express it. He's a modern treasure. In The Devil's Backbone he makes eloquent use of the Spanish Civil War, using it as his backdrop. As is customary in a Del Toro picture, the ghouls may frighten you but the living are the ones that will give you nightmares.
Enter Jacinto. Portrayed excellently by the fully capable Eduardo Noriega, Jacinto is is the film's primary antagonist. And he's a villain for the history books, folks. This guy is absolutely nefarious. But he is also handled with such delicate care by Del Toro and Noriega that he ends up being the most complex and pitiful character of the film. Jacinto is the corrupt caretaker at the orphanage. When he was a boy, he was stuck in the very same place. And he hated it. It instilled in him an overarching sense of abandonment and inferiority. He is truly the prodigal son gone man. He is called a prince without a kingdom. He is christened the saddest orphan. And you can see it too, that utter despair in his face. That look of the unwanted and undesirable, usually reserved only for the dead, he has worn it all his life.
He is the epitome of selfishness, callousness, malevolence, and sadness and grief. He has no idea what it takes to be a man, for at heart he is still that weeping child all alone. He is so determined one could safely assume that he has a bone to pick with the entire world or at the very least something to prove to it. He wanted to prove that he was wanted once, that he was really loved, that his parents cherished him, that they were proud of having him and he was proud to come from such a rich lineage. But he couldn't have any of those things. Life gave him a raw deal and he didn't know what to do with all of it. You can sense inside of him an uncontrollable fear of dying insignificantly.
Jacinto is Del Toro's best honed villain. Not only is he despicable and ruthless, he is empathetic. You can't help but sympathize with him. Not with the monster he is now, but with the unloved child he once was. But then you realize and you understand that the same unloved child who received your sympathy is exactly what caused and gave birth to the monster. Without the unloved child inside of him, Jacinto would not have become so vengeful and vicious. He was not born evil, he is not naturally sadistic. He is a man-child, immature and greedy. An overgrown bully. A very sad person. But a person who resonates nonetheless.
It is for characters like Jacinto that remind me why I love the medium so much. Based on what you can communicate through it, film can be the most potent art form in the world. Especially when given the privilege of observing and concentrating on a character as complex and classical as Jacinto. Jacinto is easily one of the greatest villains of all time. There is virtually no end to his complexities and mysteries. He is representative of several incredibly interesting philosophical ideals. He is representative of several gender based and political issues. He is representative of the debate over what system really raises you, the nuclear family or the nuclear machine. Jacinto brings to mind countless questions that will echo, oscillate, and haunt you. Like a phantom. Like a ghost.
So. What's a ghost, huh? Well, there are endless ways to go about answering that, the film makes this perfectly clear. But what's so humbling about part of the answer that the film provides is that a ghost is the uninhabitable and cold parts of the living spirit. That we all carry around ghosts. That we must learn to make peace with what we can never have. Longing is one of the hardest ghouls to exorcize but to be happy in this world, we must.
The Devil's Backbone is a most extraordinary and chilling film. One of my all-time favorites.