Co-Writer/Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 106 mins (approx)
Certification (UK): 15
USA Release date: 30th November 2001
Watched on Sky+ Monday 29th August 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
This is the second review in my mini ‘del Toro Fest’, if you missed the first one, you’ll find it here. I have heard many good things about ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ over the years, but this is my first viewing. I must say I’m impressed with what I saw, despite the subtitles; it’s quite an engaging tale. I’ll tell you more after this brief summary.
Set during the Spanish civil war, the story surrounds the goings on at a remote orphanage. Carlos has been left there after his father is killed at the front and, under the care of the people who run the orphanage, principally Dr. Casares and Carmen; he is assigned a bed and introduced to the other boys. Other people at the orphanage include the surly Jacinto, and the young maid, Conchita. One of the boys, Jaime, is slightly bigger than Carlos and, at first bullies him a bit, but they eventually become friends. On his first night, Carlos hears a noise that turns out to the ghost of a boy who was murdered at the orphanage. This boy, Santi, knows a secret, the place where they are hiding some gold. Unfortunately, Jacinto also knows the secret and is already looking for a way to get it. I’ll leave it there or the Spoiler Police will be putting me in that water-filled pit in the basement again.
This is, again, a beautifully made film, filled with the little nuances I’ve found del Toro puts in many of his films. It’s very much a character-driven piece and they are, for the most part interesting and well rounded. As usual, it’s quite hard to judge performances in a foreign language, but I could find no fault with any of them. Marisa Paredes did a great job as Carmen, as did Eduardo Noriega as Jacinto and Federico Luppi, who bears a striking resemblance to Christopher Lee, as Dr. Casares. Fernando Tielve was great as Carlos, as was Íñigo Garcés as Jaime. Finally, I thought Irene Visedo was good as Conchita, although I thought her character was a little under used.
As I’ve already said, this is very much a character-driven piece, where the interrelationships between the various characters are very much to the fore. Some are quite surprising and, at times shocking. Quite a complicated plot, but well worth sticking with as it all ties up in the end quite neatly. It did, unfortunately fall a little flat in the middle, but I feel further viewings will probably iron out any problems I found there. Over all, though, a rather excellent drama with a great visual style that, at times, can be quite subtle. I really enjoyed it!... Recommended.
My Score: 8.4/10.
IMDb Score: 7.6/10 (based on 20,256 votes at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91/100 (based on 103 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Casares: What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.