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A very useful case study

The basic credits

The money, the bottom line.

The trailer.

The director, his life and career.

Click on his teeth above

In 1997, at the age of 33, Guillermo was given a $30 million budget from Miramax Films to shoot his second film, Mimic. During this time, his father, automotive entrepreneur Federico del Toro, was kidnapped in Guadalajara. Although Federico was eventually released safely, there was intense economic pressure from his captors, to the point that del Toro's family had to pay twice the amount originally asked. The event prompted del Toro, his parents and his siblings to move abroad. In an interview with Time magazine, he said this about the kidnapping of his father: "Every day, every week, something happens that reminds me that I am in involuntary exile [from my country]."

His all time favourite films.

His official web site.

H O M E

Mr. del Toro's new movie takes place in a lonely boarding school late in the Spanish Civil War, and he fills its closets and corridors with a brooding, sombre sense of dread. Unlike ''The Others,'' which was built around a metaphysical conundrum, this movie is haunted by political disaster. The school has become an orphanage for the sons of dead Republicans, and in the middle of the courtyard sits an unexploded Fascist bomb: a metaphor waiting to go off.

Dr. Cásares and Carmen, the stoical old leftists who run the orphanage, carry some symbolic baggage of their own. Dr. Cásares's chronic impotence and Carmen's wooden leg suggest the weakness of the republic, and like that noble, self-divided government, they are unable to defend themselves against the treachery in their midst.


¶ The snake in this crumbling garden is Jacinto, a former pupil who is now the caretaker. Engaged to Conchita, the housekeeper, he keeps clandestine company with Carmen, and his sadistic, deceitful nature seems to spring from the hurts he suffered as a child. Since the story is told mostly from the perspective of a young boy, Carlos, who has just arrived at the school, Jacinto's villainy and its implications do not emerge immediately.

Carlos and his classmates are more preoccupied with comic books, marbles and the usual petty rivalries, and also with the ghost, whose eerie whispers trouble their sleep. The apparition, its half-crushed skull visible beneath greying skin, belongs to Santi, a boy who was killed the night the bomb fell in the courtyard. His attempts to communicate with Carlos are meant either to frighten the newcomer or to deliver a warning.


¶ The nighttime sequences in which Carlos pursues Santi's footsteps down empty hallways and into a cavernous subterranean chamber are certainly frightening. Mr. del Toro takes an almost sensuous delight in weaving aural and visual textures of fear; water droplets and heartbeats echo in the stillness, and the camera replicates that primal childhood state of being poised between curiosity and dread. Is it worse to hide under the covers, where whatever it is might come and find you, or to seek it out in the murky darkness?


¶ ''The Devil's Backbone'' is enriched by the contrast between the clammy, greenish light that infuses the orphanage by night and the parched orange glow of the daytime, a tonal contrast mirrored by the story, which melds horror and melodrama. By day we witness the turmoil of the adult world, which is somehow the source of the nightmares that emerge once the sun has gone down.


¶ Eventually these worlds collide, and the film detonates with shocking violence, as all of the subtexts -- sexual frustration, class hatred, irrational greed -- rise explosively to the surface. Mr. del Toro's allegorical intentions also become increasingly overt, as the boys must band together against their oppressor. ''He's bigger than us,'' one says. ''But there are more of us,'' Carlos replies, evoking a proud movie lineage of strike dramas and populist westerns, in which the people, united, can never be defeated.


¶ But any easy sentimentality is checked by the gravity of the violence that came before, and by the sobering lessons of history. The measure of Mr. del Toro's intelligence as a filmmaker -- and also of his sensitivity to the complexities of his grim story -- comes in the last shot, in which a troop of dazed and wounded boys emerges from the orphanage into the desolate sunlight of the Spanish plain. The image lifts the movie beyond horror into heartbreak. Mr. del Toro provokes your screams and shudders, but he also earns your tears.

Del Toro interviewed by Mark Kermode in the Guardian CLICK

                EXTRACT:
GdT: Devil's Backbone was a movie that tried to create a microcosm of the Spanish civil war. I'm always doing this stupid experiment. I said I'm going to do a microcosm of the Spanish civil war through a gothic romance with a ghost. That sounds very logical, you know. But I guess it's not as far-fetched as doing an anti-fascist fairytale. In trying to do that, I chose that war because it was a household war. People that shared beds, shared dining tables and shared lives ultimately killed each other. I tried to use an orphanage as the classic haunted building of gothic romance and use the ghost story to prove the same thing that I wanted to prove in Pan's Labyrinth, that is the only real monsters are human.

“I tried to make the orphanage in the film a microcosm of the war. I wanted to create a situation where the republican figures in the movie allowed for this fascist creature to grow and nurture, and ultimately take over.

The above from a Guardian interview, read the full interview HERE

Microcosm,noun:

a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.

    

Ghosts are more interesting when they have their reasons. They should have unfinished affairs of the heart or soul. Too many movies use them simply for shock value, as if they exist to take cues from the screenplay. "The Devil's Backbone," a mournful and beautiful new ghost story by Guillermo del Toro, understands that most ghosts are sad, and are attempting not to frighten us but to urgently communicate something that must be known so that they can rest.


The film takes place in Spain in the final days of the Civil War. Franco's fascists have the upper hand, and in a remote orphanage the children of left-wing families await the end. An enormous crucifix has been put on display to disguise the institution as a Catholic school, and the staff is uneasily prepared to flee. In the courtyard, a huge unexploded bomb rests, nose-down, like a sculpture. "They say it's switched off," says one of the kids, "but I don't believe it. Put your head against it. You can hear it ticking." A young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) has been brought to the school in a car riding across one of those spaghetti Western landscapes. He is assigned Bed No. 12--"Santi's bed," the children whisper. Santi is a boy who died, and whose ghost is sometimes seen, sometimes heard sighing. Carlos learns the ways of the school, its rules, the boys who will be his friends and his enemies.


The most ominous presence is Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a former student who is now the janitor. The orphanage is run by Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi), elderly and self-absorbed, and by Carmen (Marisa Paredes), who has a wooden leg. There is also Conchita (Irene Visedo), the sexy maid; Jacinto sleeps with her but also goes through the motions of courting Carmen, because he suspects she has gold hidden somewhere on the grounds, and he wants it.


This information unfolds gradually, as Carlos discovers it. He also begins to see the ghost, a sad, gray indistinct figure who seems associated with a deep water tank in the basement. There's a creepy sequence in which the other boys dare Carlos to make a forbidden nighttime expedition to the kitchen, to bring back water; he is venturing into the world of the orphanage's dreaded secrets.

What happens, and why, must remain a secret. The Mexican director del Toro is a master of dark atmosphere, and the places in his films seem as frightening as the plots.

Del Toro is attracted by the horror genre, but not in thrall to it. He uses the golden beetle, the mimic insects, the school ghost, not as his subjects but as the devices that test the souls of his characters. Here he uses buried symbolism that will slip past American audiences not familiar with the Spanish Civil War, but the impotent school administrators and the unexploded fascist bomb do not need footnotes, nor does the grown child of the left (Jacinto), who seduces the younger generation while flattering the older for its gold. Carlos I suppose is the Spanish future, who has a long wait ahead.

Such symbols are worthless if they function only as symbols; you might as well hand out nametags. Del Toro's symbols work first as themselves, then as what they may stand for, so it does not matter if the audience has never heard of Franco, as long as it has heard of ghosts.


Any director of a ghost film is faced with the difficult question of portraying the ghost. A wrong step, and he gets bad laughs. The ghost in "The Devil's Backbone" is glimpsed briefly, is heard sighing, is finally seen a little better as a dead boy. What happens at the end is not the usual action scene with which lesser ghost films dissipate their tension, but a chain of events that have a logic and a poetic justice. "The Devil's Backbone" has been compared to "The Others," and has the same ambition and intelligence, but is more compelling and even convincing.

The above from the late great Roger Ebert


Symbol Noun

a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.

    "the limousine was another symbol of his wealth and authority"

Synonyms:

emblem, token, sign, representation,