Through the history of Mexican cinema, animated films never had a really strong presence until the decade of the 80s, when the relative success of José Luis Moro's "Katy" (a co-production with Spain) renewed the interest in animated films. Granted, there had been many attempts of making animation before, but there was never a real tradition of animated films in the Mexican film industry. Still, the country's many economical troubles stopped the development of animation once again until the 90s when the films by Carlos Carrera ("El Héroe") and the team of René Castillo and Antonio Urrutia ("Sin Sostén") proved that there was still talented animators in Mexico working independently. The 21st century has brought once again a renewed interest in Mexican animation, with many new films done in its first decade. Castillo's second film, "Hasta Los Huesos", it's among the best of this new generation.
"Hasta Los Huesos" begins with the burial of a recently deceased man (Bruno Bichir). In a lonely afternoon, the undertakers carry his coffin while his widow cries hopelessly and a kid who was passing by watches the whole scene. After the coffin has been buried, the man suddenly awakes, however, he is not really alive, as the passage to an underground world opens at the bottom of his coffin. The man falls through the passage and lands in what seems to be a strange stage. As he gets up, he notices that he is now in some kind of bohemian bar where everyone is a skeleton and it seems that the party has just started. Confused, the man walks to the bar, bothered by a worm that keeps biting him and sad as he realizes that he is now dead. As a drink is served to him, a beautiful woman's voice begins to sing, it's the Catrina (Eugenia León), Death herself, who is here to help him understand that to be dead is not so bad.
Known in English as "Down to the Bone" (although it's not an exact translation), "Hasta Los Huesos" was written by director René Castillo himself, who inspired by the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, built up a story that thematically could be considered as a loose sequel to his previous film. While "Sin Sostén" was about a man choosing to die, this film deals with the theme of accepting death, as our hero here refuses to accept that death has already taken him away. Like in his previous film, Castillo uses a lighthearted tone of comedy to deal with this dark and melancholic subject, and once again he succeeds in creating a charming bittersweet fable that culminates in a fantastic use of the haunting traditional Mexican song titled "La Llorona" ("The Crying Woman"). Through its 12 minutes of duration, the plot unfolds nicely, and without dialogs (other than the song lyrics), Castillo manages to tell more with images than with words.
"Hasta Los Huesos" follows the same style in both character and set design that Castillo used in his previous film, but this time the result looks a lot more polished, with an even more fluid animation and more complex movements. The cinematography is again in charge of Sergio Ulloa, who once again makes a wonderful job in capturing Castillo's macabre fantasy world with great skill. Clearly inspired by the Day of the Dead festivities, the visual look of "Hasta Los Huesos" has a distinctive Mexican touch that gives the movie a special charm, as Castillo's vision of the underworld resembles the visual style of such celebrations, mainly the zinc etchings by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada. Despite the macabre themes, "Hasta Los Huesos" is certainly less dark than "Sin Sostén", as Castillo seems to prefer comedy over drama and have a more optimistic view of life this time.
With an astonishing visual look, beautiful music (performed by Mexican rock band "Café Tacuba") and a cleverly written story, "Hasta Los Huesos" is a wonderful animated movie that gives a glimpse of what animation in Mexico could become one day with the appropriate support, and that "New Mexican Cinema" can be more than urban dramas and touch genres such as fantasy and horror. Together with filmmaker Antonio Urrutia, René Castillo proved that clay animation wasn't out of the wave of new Mexican cinema that came out in the 90s. Three years later, Castillo returns and creates a masterpiece that infinitely surpasses what he achieved in his first short. Hopefully, his talents will create a feature length animated movie someday, as if "Hasta Los Huesos" is an indication of the future of Mexican animation, the future looks good. 9/10
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