It is 1939, the end of three years of bloody civil war in Spain, and General Franco's right-wing Nationalists are poised to defeat the left-wing Republican forces. A ten-year-old boy named Carlos, the son of a fallen Republican war hero, is left by his tutor in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. The orphanage is run by a curt but considerate headmistress named Carmen and a kindly Professor Casares, both of whom are sympathetic to the doomed Republican cause. Despite their concern for him, and his gradual triumph over the usual schoolhouse bully, Carlos never feels completely comfortable in his new environment. First of all, there was that initial encounter with the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto, who reacts even more violently when anyone is caught looking around a particular storage room the one with the deep well. Second, and more inexplicable, is the presence of a ghost, one of the former occupants of the orphanage named Santi. Not long after Carlos' arrival, Santi ... Written by
[voice over narration]
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.
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During the opening credits sequence, the letters of the film's title can be seen floating around the preserved fetuses. Eventually, the letters come together to form the title. See more »
Great care has been taken with the art direction. You are immediately transported to 1939, with Franco's army about to descend on the Spanish countryside. Even the crumbling buildings of the boys' school the characters inhabit play a role. The actors are superb, and the child actors give award-worthy performances.
This story is only incidentally a ghost story. It's a story about love and betrayal and the miseries of war visited on a people. It has a lot to teach about the depths of human cruelty, and the grace of sacrifice. It left me weeping. I don't want to label it Del Toro's masterpiece so early in his career, but it will stand through the years with his best work.
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