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
The upcoming Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-Ray release of the film has the spine number 666, a clever play-on-words with the film's title. See more »
[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 »
"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."
Often compared to "The Sixth Sense (1999)" and "The Others (2001)", "The Devil's Backbone" is even a better film, the ultimate ghost story that goes beyond the genre and very successfully mixes horror, suspense, and coming of age during the war time story. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film takes place during the Spanish Civil War in an isolated boarding school for the orphans of the War where a new boy, Carlos encounters the ghost of a murdered child Santi whose body was never found and who warns Carlos that "Many of you will die". How did Santi die? Why does not he leave the school's courtyard, what is the tragedy he is trying to prevent? It is up to Carlos to find the answers to these and many more questions as well as to stand up to the school's bully, Jaime and to find out what is behind the violent hostility of the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto who himself was and orphan and had been a pupil in the school as a child. The movie is not just beautifully directed it is very well written and provides the deep insight into each character, including school headmistress named Carmen (Marisa Paredes), kind and brave Professor Casares, vicious bully Jaime who would turn a lonely and scared boy and even the embodiment of evil, Jacinto with his own heartbreaking story. Along with "The Spirit of the Beehive", "Devil's Backbone" is a harrowing exploration of the war and its affect on childhood. It also brings to mind such classic as Bunuel's "Los Olvidados" and this is the best praise I have for any movie. Highly recommended.
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