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
Was strongly inspired by the director's personal memories, especially his relationship with his uncle, who supposedly came back as a ghost. 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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"... As the road struck into the sierra we branched off to the right and climbed a narrow mule-track that wound round the mountain-side. The hills in that part of Spain are of a queer formation, horseshoe-shaped with flattish tops and very steep sides running down into immense ravines. On the higher slopes nothing grows except stunted shrubs and heath, with the white bones of the limestone sticking out everywhere. ..." - George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, Chapter 2
It is unlikely that Mexican-director, Guillermo del Toro, will ever top this film, it is his greatest-achievement. While certainly a horror-film, it so-much-more, an allegory of the betrayals that led-to the rise-of-fascism in Spain. Most small-arms came-from Mexico, and Del Toro has said in-interviews that he lived-in a neighborhood populated by Republicans who had fled after-1939. Some have commented that the film takes-place after the fall of Republican Spain(the 1939 fall of Catalonia), but this is incorrect. The fall hasn't come-yet, and this free-fall state is the universe that the film inhabits. Taking-place in a Republican Orphanage for fallen-anarchists, Leftists, and Republican-politicians, the film is always in a state of anticipation and a kind-of limbo. All the Republican-caretakers can do is wait for the fall, and the repression that was surely-to-follow. Betrayed by the Catholic Church, the Soviet Union under-Stalin, political-infighting, and even the Western Democracies, Franco was given a blank-check to slaughter legitimate, democratic-forces by-1939. 2,000 Americans joined the "Abraham Lincoln Brigade" to fight Franco's forces, and a "United Front" of Leftists and Unionists from throughout-the-world had went to Spain to "fight the good-fight".
Meanwhile, the Roosevelt-administration banned all-sales of war-material (most-particularly, aircraft-engines and ammunition) to Republican-forces. Franco had many-allies, and would remain-in-power until his timely-death in November, 1975...Spain has been-celebrating ever-since. And-so, "The Devil's Backbone" can only be-about the ghosts of this period, particularly those Spaniards who were betrayed by politicians who shared so-much with Franco. The title, incidentally, comes-from a range-of-mountains where Republican-forces were bogged-down, then-defeated; it is referred-to as the Sierra de Alcubierre. Even George Orwell was there, and he wrote a book on his experiences fighting to save Republican Spain.
If "Devil's Backbone" says-anything, it is that "these were times that showed what people then were made-of." Dr. Cásares and Carmen represent the weakened-Republic, with her leg-missing, and he being-impotent. Then, there is Jacinto, once an orphan, now a caretaker of the orphanage--a betrayer, a criminal, and a murderer. Even-worse, though, is that amidst-the-chaos of the Civil War, the orphanage is haunted by the ghost of a former child-resident who may-have been murdered. The orphanage IS Spain, with its' fascist-bomb, unexploded in-the-courtyard, a direct-reference to the bombing of the Spanish-town, Guernica. Guernica was the first-incident of the bombing-of-civilians in modern-history, and was immortalized in a painting by-Pablo Picasso The deformed-fetus in the jar is the Spain-that-never-was, still-born, unnaturally. Dr. Cásares, then, is the legacy of Spanish Republicanism, a good-legacy that literally aids the living in the finale of the film. However, if I tell you anything-else this character, the film will be ruined! You can figure-out the rest, most audiences aren't given enough-credit. Stand-and-be-counted, these are "times that try men's souls". History never ends.
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