Wintry Mix

The holiday film forecast

Wintry Mix

Foreign

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE

Guillermo del Toro's allegorical ghost story The Devil's Backbone promises to be a kind of stylistic sequel to Cronos -- the unconventional vampire film that first established the Mexican-born, Austin-based director's name among the arthouse crowd -- after his big-budget detour with the monster-bug flick Mimic. Set during the final days of the Spanish Civil War (the Spanish-language film was shot outside Madrid and features All About My Mother's Marisa Paredes and Cronos' Federico Luppi), The Devil's Backbone takes place entirely in a crumbling home for war orphans, at the center of which is imbedded a large, unexploded bomb. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Jackie Brown, Cronos) frames the dusty hallways and murky apparitions of The Devil's Backbone in a striking, inky chiaroscuro, and, as in Cronos, del Toro uses the trappings of the horror genre here less as a framework for displaying blood and guts than a means of creating an atmosphere of suffused dread. Hedged in by a war they don't understand, shadowed by the defused but still-ticking bomb, and visited by a ghostly child they call "the one who sighs," these children hover in a limbo between innocence and experience, between the violent atrocities of the past and their own necessary future response to those atrocities. Del Toro wrote The Devil's Backbone as his college thesis, and it's exciting to see the director once again focus his considerable talents on such a personal project. (Jan. 11)


ALSO PLAYING

Vengo ... Flamenco-flavored film about a feud between two gypsy families. (Dec. 7)

Fat Girl ... Controversial French director Catherine Breillat(Romance) puts to film the traumas of the sexual coming-of-age for two sisters. (Dec. 14)

Lantana ... Much talked-about Aussie import starring Anthoney LaPaglia as a detective investigating a woman's disappearance. (Dec. 21)

A Matter of Taste ... French New Wave mainstay Jean-Pierre Léaud co-stars in this César-nominated black comedy about deceit and haute cuisine.(Dec. 28)

La Cienaga ... This Argentinian film, about a summer of upper-class decadence, recalls The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. (Jan. 4)

Intimacy ... Based on short stories by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), Intimacy has set ears burning with its explicit, unerotic rendering of an affair between Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance. (Jan. 11)

No Man's Land ... The rundown of this satire reads like the setup to an exceedingly tasteless joke: Three soldiers in a trench, one of them's Serbian, one of them's Bosnian, and the third guy is lying on a live mine. (January)

Happenstance ...Amélie charmer Audrey Tautou stars in this French "twist-of-fate" romantic-comedy. Its French title, Le Battement D'Aile du Papillon, refers to the theory that the flutter of one butterfly can produce a tsunami half a world over. (January)

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