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THE DEVILíS BACKBONE (R)
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Producers: Augustine and Pedro Almodovar
Written by: Guillermo Del Toro, Antonio Trashhorras, David Munoz
Cast: Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Inigo Garces

Rating: out of 5


In many foreign films, the viewer (at least, the American viewer) has a tendency to feel like an outsider. Watching the works of many a French artiste, I have been haunted by a vague uneasiness that can only be likened to a tourist lost in Paris, vainly searching for a bathroom hidden by signs reading ďau de vue del la grange poisson fromage!Ē I think itís the culture thing. When we, as Americans, pepper our films with such phrases as ďYou go, girlĒ and ďAinít no thing,Ē I guarantee you there is a confused Korean out there thinking, ďGo where?Ē and ďWhat is no thing?Ē Itís the same way for us. In a good deal of the overseas films, we the people are not equipped, culturally, to truly ďgetĒ whatís going on. Iím convinced thatís why I donít understand Godard. Rounding third and zeroing in on my point, this ďcultural barrier,Ē as it were, is the case in, letís say, 95% of all foreign films. That, naturally, leaves a scant 5% that manage to break through the various divides and embankments, uniting us into one big happy global community, you know, until another war starts. This select few include varied fare from DAS BOOT to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON to the recent hit, AMELIE. The common thread here is a universality of themes that appeals to everyone, not just those in a specific country. And to this list, Iíd like to add THE DEVILíS BACKBONE, a fine example of a good story told well that just happens to be in a different language.

THE DEVILíS BACKBONE is one gritty, grimy piece of work. The movie begins with our protagonist, a young boy named Jaime (played maturely by Inigo Garces), beginning his stay at a Catholic mission-turned-school for orphans. Itís the middle of World War II; fear hangs over the place like so much tinsel. Jaime isnít real pleased about being at the school (Would you be?) and things only get worse when he finds out that heís sleeping in the bed of the recently dead kid. Of course, being a bit of a horror tale, the dead kidís ghost is back for revenge on the man/woman/people that killed him (no spoilers here, folks). The thing that makes this more than a south-of-the-border SIXTH SENSE is the innate humanness of it all. There is a quite touching love story underneath all the scares (the headmistress and the professor, both older, both aching for fulfillment), and the children in the movie all have a haunted feel about them, each one knowing way too much for their age. The thing that surprised me the most about THE DEVILíS BACKBONE is how it didnít feel like just another ghost story. Itís really a war movie with ghosts as a metaphor, ground also tread in last yearís superb THE OTHERS.

Beyond plot matters, I also want to point out that this is one of the more beautiful movies, as far as cinematography goes, that Iíve seen in a long time. All golden-hued and sun-drenched, it feels like hellish version of the IL POSTINO scenery. The direction, too, is quite good. Guillermo Del Toro, a man known mainly for a barely passable Giant Bug movie (MIMIC) and his upcoming treatment of a decent vampire flick (BLADE II) and proves here that he is much more than a genre director. Also, itís quite apparent that, when left to his own devices, he can produce some quality work. Be warned though: This is not a movie for the faint of heart. It is, in some parts, horribly violent, in particular toward the children who live in the mission. Thereís one part involving a child and a broken ankle that made me want to hide under the seats for the rest of the picture.

It all boils down to the movie's ability to speak to the audience as a whole, not just to a certain kind of people, and this does so admirably. Maybe itís because Del Toro has been working for so long in the American idiom that heís become more adept at speaking our cinema than Iím giving him credit for. But for whatever the reason, THE DEVILíS BACKBONE will touch you more than any number of films by Bresson or Fellini. Watching it, it just makes that sign to the bathroom suddenly very clear.

óClint Davis

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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