Parables III

film 2 of 5

The Devil’s Backbone

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

It’s Pan’s Labyrinth! Fascism, which after all has the force and threat of a fairy-tale ogre, forces children into the realms of fantasy, where they find some solace, or maybe a way to come back out and defeat the real menace. The darkness of the fantasy, and the fact that kids can be pretty fascistic themselves, richly complicates this whole scenario. We’re left not so much with melodrama as the heart of darkness, and maybe Original Sin. After all, the good Republicans (Spanish, of course) are finally ineffectual, leaving this innocent to fend for himself.

These ideas, as they appear in The Devil’s Backbone, aren’t as worked out as they would be in that more celebrated successor, and they’re certainly not as elaborate. I wonder though. Does this one’s modesty actually make it the more effective of the two? That unexploded bomb is a great symbol, of the arbitrariness of violence, of how death constantly threatens, of how wars never end. Or, of some other vague, unarticulated thing.

This production is very handsome. The ghost design/effects are very good. This one-legged maestra is pretty Buñuelian. I guess it works, in a perverse, arbitrary, Buñuelian way. Her relationship with the old man is interesting, and more tasteful than the finally gratuitous stud part. That explosion is amazing! There’s a precipitousness to everything that follows. Terrible, matter-of-fact cruelty and violence, and a satisfying, ghostly come-uppance. We’ve got a filmmaker here.