"The Devil's Backbone" and "A History of Violence."
"The Devil's Backbone" is that rarest of things, an effective thriller and more, it's a really good movie. It's what "The Sixth Sense" and "The Others" should have been and weren't. It's definitely shot with an auteur's eye. It's quite beautiful--the setting a character unto itself, bleak and dry, the heat almost visible. The "monster" though it's is shown early never loses it's power to terrify nor it's tragedy. The twist, when it comes, is startling yet satisfying and the climax and denouement effective and fulfilling. I'm keeping it generic because I don't want to give it away. I had heard good things about it and both my husband and I just sighed when it was over. It's directed by Guillermo Del Toro who directed the underrated and interesting "Hellboy" also with a great eye. He is clearly fascinated by comics and appreciates them. One of the special features of the DVD is his original storyboards shown beside the shots in the film and they are drawn like a comic book. Tim Burton also does his own storyboards. Within the story the young boy is reading The Count of Monte Christo in comic book form. The acting, especially by the children is amazing. It's set in a boy's school/orphanage (many of the boys do not know they are orphans) during the Spanish Civil War. Like truly great literature, the world events form a subtle but important background. One of the things I remember from Lit. Crit. in college was an appreciation for Jane Austin's minute acknowledgements of the events in the world, such as industrialization and the plantations in the West Indies that made the life of manners in her books possible. It's there and it's not there, simultaneously.
I've been a fan of Cronenburg for years (I even studied his films in college) so I was eager to see "A History of Violence"--his "cross over" film. It's very good though not as good as "The Devil's Backbone." For a David Cronenburg the violence is quite understated--though for any other director except Tarantino and Lynch, this would be a very violent and graphic film. Viggo Mortgensen (sp.?) gives a taut and intriguing performance. He makes an interesting choice in portraying the past and the present. He can't always maintain it, but he makes a good effort. Like many of DC's later films there is a strong correspondence between sex and violence. A lengthy and funny sex scene early in the film is contrasted with a shorter more violent one later. Interestingly this was based on a comic series.
We watched these on Friday and Saturday respectively. On Sunday I said to my husband that we had picked two very linked films. He looked at me like I had two heads. When I studied theater design in college, the first thing we were taught was to find the throughline of the play. The throughline should be one sentence that sums up the plot as you see it (obviously in the real world a director will probably come to you with his through line and you have to design it; if you're lucky, you'll find a director who will develop one with your input). If you see King Lear as "A once powerful king plays his daughters ambitions against each other," you're probably going to design a different show than if you see it as (as one of my classmates did) "Senile old man is duped by his goody two shoes daughter to the detriment of his more aggressive older daughters." I believe the best through lines focus on the humans. You can certainly design a show with the through line "Power struggles lead to civil war," but I don't think it will be as good. I realized that the two movies have similar through lines. "There are evil and violent men in the world and sometimes the best people must resort to violence to overcome their fears and bring justice." They were movies about doing the right thing in spite of everything--the right thing happening to be murder of the evil. I suppose it's why we go to movies for that closure that does not always happen in life. What was especially nice about both of these films is that while the climax was fairly black and white, the denouement were deliberately kept ambiguous--there is no happy ever after. One knows that all of these characters will face repercussions, possibly for the rest of their lives because of the actions they've taken in the film.