Guillermo del Toro: A Brief Retrospective

When considering Guillermo Del Toro’s work, mythical creatures, terrifying monsters, and of getting lost in a wonderful world of his creation for a couple of hours seem typical statements of his work. So when I saw the trailer for his new piece Pacific Rim, I couldn’t help but think that it was a little out of keeping with his style of storytelling. If we look back over some of his most influential and successful works however, and make a point of looking past his distinctive stylistic vision and storytelling technique, it soon becomes evident that, thematically, Pacific Rim is simply an extension of an ever present subject matter. In each of his works, Del Toro questions what it means to be human, the tolerability of immortality, and the causes of monstrosity. Questions which, judging by the trailers, will be at the forefront of his latest offering. In preparation for the release of this action packed instalment on July 12th, we look back over some of his pervious works, and follow his thematic journey through cinema.

Del Toro’s 1993 offering, Cronos, is a constant blur between the line of humanity and immortality, with the essential mythical monster thrown in for good measure. It questions when, if ever, is immortality the answer? If you had the choice between a normal life of aging then death, dying of a terminal illness, or immortality with a number unknown side effects and restrictions, what would you choose? The story focuses in on the protagonist, Jesus, and what his state of being is. He remains convinced throughout that he is in control of his actions, particularly his use of the Cronos device. A device which prolongs the user’s life, making them feel, and even appear more youthful, but at the price of becoming slave to its use. Even after his death, and resurrection, Jesus remains convinced of his humanity. It takes the slow realisation that his new lifestyle of nocturnalism, blood draining, and consumption, is in fact completely inhuman, for him to become aware of his current state. His personal battle with what it means to be human (love, family, freedom) brings about his demise. Upon the realisation that he can no longer experience these simple pleasures, and in turn, can no longer be called human, he sacrifices himself, and consequently, saves his daughter from death. His last act of compassion and humanity.

2004’s Hellboy, and 2008’s Hellboy II pose similar questions about humanity, immortality, and monstrosity, again questioning when, if ever, is immortality the answer? And what defines a character as monstrous? In these films however, Del Toro explores these questions from the point of view of what would traditionally be labelled as monsters, changing the expectations of his audience, and forcing us to examine the possibility that often we, as humans, are the monsters. Following the story of Hellboy (literally a creature from Hell found on earth), we see how this ‘monster’ works with both humans and other fantastical creatures in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, in order to keep the world, and in particular the human race, safe from members of the occult. In both films, humans are at the source of all the problems, as they attempt to gain more power, achieve immortality, and rule the world and all its races for all eternity. In these films, Del Toro proves it is possible to be human without being humane. Monsters can come in all shapes and sizes, but it is often those who seem the least monstrous that prove to be the most nefarious.

 

In 2006, Del Toro brought us the world of Pan’s Labyrinth. A visually striking film filled with fairies, fauns and fantasy. The piece is set between two contrasting worlds. The world we know, and the world of Princess Moanna. Princess of the underworld. Set during post Civil War Spain, we are instantly given cause to question what it means to be human, as we witness the emotionless Falange Soldiers, in particular Captain Vidal, kill, maim, and torture for both information and entertainment. How can these beings be called human when they treat others with such disdain? How can one inflict so much physical and mental pain upon others without causing suffering to themselves? This is truly the behaviour of a monster. However, monstrous traits are also displayed by the mythical creatures of the film. The faun, who appears initially as a guide and mentor, abandons the protagonist, Ofelia, when she fails to carry out her assigned task to the letter, and even attempts to convince Ofelia to sacrifice her baby brother. Hardly the behaviour of the righteous. Del Toro demonstrates how circumstance can play a huge part in behaviour patterns. Cause and consequence. Beings react to their situations and the way those around them react. Had there been no civil war, perhaps the soldiers would not have become such violent beasts. Had Ofelia not angered the faun, she may not have suffered in solitude. Monsters do not simply come into being, they are created by circumstance. A creature is not a monster for having horns and hoofs, but for using them to inflict pain on others.

So what can we expect from Pacific Rim? Evidently, plenty of strong men, big machines and battle scenes, but what of the story behind the visuals. The trailer itself states “In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own”. I am confident that Del Toro will present us with many more interpretations of what defines humanity, monstrosity, and immortality, and prove that he can work with any genre of film, and make it his own.

 

 

Jenni Wright

 

Pacific Rim is now showing at the Grosvenor Cinema. Click here to book your tickets.

Fraser McFadzean’s Alternative Movie Posters II

Fraser McFadzean -the Grosvenor Cinema’s very own poster boy- gives us a second installment of his second looks at movie paraphernalia for upcoming talkies which will be coming to the Grosvenor Cinema.

One of Scotland's cult classics. Having very rarely seen the sun, Scots tend to eulogize about seaside holidays without any reference to the fictional nature of Ferness.

One of Scotland’s cult classics. Having very rarely seen the sun, Scots tend to eulogize about seaside holidays without any reference to the fictional nature of Ferness

Anyone who has seen the awesome trailer of 'Man of Steel' will instantly recognize this minimalist take on the flight of  the Man of Steel. The steely blue, matte colours only add to it

Anyone who has seen the awesome trailer of ‘Man of Steel’ will instantly recognize this minimalist take on the flight of the Man of Steel. The steely blue, matte colours only add to it

The movie is about Alan, right? It's always been about Alan. And so Fraser has immortalized this fact with the bearded- wolf himself.

The movie is about Alan, right? It’s always been about Alan. And so Fraser has immortalized this fact with the bearded- wolf himself.

Tom Cruise oozes the Eighties: so does this neon-drenched poster for the Grosvenor Cinema's upcoming 'Cocktails and Dreams' night

Tom Cruise oozes the Eighties: so does this neon-drenched poster for the Grosvenor Cinema’s upcoming ‘Cocktails and Dreams’ night

 

All artwork courtesy of Fraser McFadzean

‘In the unexcpetional lies the extraordinary’: A Pedro Almodóvar Retrospective

Pedro Almodóvar: A visionary. One of the few Spanish-language filmmakers to have experienced such international acclaim and success, and quite rightly in my opinion. For a man with a wealth of successful film credits to his name, his own production company, and countless awards on his shelves (including an academy award) what is the next step? Having built his name on his distinctive style, inspired by melodrama, pop culture, strong colours and vibrant women, Almodóvar returns to his roots, as he brings us the quick witted, light hearted comedy I’m So Excited (Los Amantes Pasajeros). In the lead up to it’s UK release on May 3rd, we look back over Almodóvar‘s cinematic journey and discover what has made him such a prolific name in contemporary international cinema.

Right from the beginning, with his 1988 breakthrough feature length, Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde deun Ataque de Nervios), it is clear that Almodóvar has a strong sense of style. The bold colours, sweeping camera movements, and sharp cuts, which have become such staples of his work, are all incorporated in abundance. Yet despite this strong identity of mise en scene, Almodóvar ensures that the themes of the film are accessible to everyone. Ok, so maybe the majority of us have not been a voice over artist who has fallen for a married man, whose wife has spent time in a mental institution, whilst our best friend has been held hostage by terrorists, but we can all relate to the general scenarios. A time when our love life is not going the way we thought. When a friend has been in need of help. Or when we simply have our priorities in the wrong place. Almodóvar’s creative choices, stylistically, and story wise, enable him to take such everyday scenarios and makes them incredible, therefore creating an audience for the unexceptional, wherein lies the extraordinary.

In creating such scenarios from the unremarkable, Almodóvar empowers his characters to be decisive, act upon their situations, and drive the story forward. This type of character is another of his signature characteristics. The strong, decisive, leading lady. It is evident, even from his early works, that the females are the focus, and driving force behind the narratives, such as Pepa from the afore mentioned Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, and Talk to Her’s Lydia.

It is 2006’s Volver, however, which truly exhibits this, as not only is the film led by the headstrong Raimunda, but she is surrounded by an almost entire cast of unfaltering women. Initially, Raimunda, played by Penelope Cruz, seems uncharacteristically subdued due to the wealth of strong females around her. However, upon the murder of her husband Paco, the only male to impact upon the story (even if he is nothing more than a narrative device), she takes decisive action to do something with her life, changing the course of not only her own life, but everyone’s around her. A sort of ripple effect if you will. Being the leading lady of her family, the absence of Raimunda’s leadership directly impacts the family unit, as her sister, daughter, and eventually mother are forced to take action in their own lives. Which brings us to the final staple of Almodóvar’s work. The importance of the family unit.

Most of Almodóvar’s works are centred around one family, with the storyline being directly affected by the state of that family. This is why we rarely see a complete family unit (or the nuclear family) within his works, as we would only have one simple narrative to follow, lacking in depth, intrigue and suspense. Almodóvar’s 2011 offering The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is anything but simple however.

Here, we uncharacteristically follow the story of the man of the family, Antonio Bandaras’ Robert, as he attempts to cope with the loss of his wife and daughter. With the family unit in desolation, the storyline becomes disjointed and non-linear, relying on multiple flashbacks in order divulge the full story. Not a typical narrative technique of Almodóvar, he adapts his stylistic choices in order to suit. The film is stripped of colour, reflecting the tone of the piece, and the usual quick fire dialogue is replaced with long, often uncomfortable silences in the absence of people to converse with. And of course the usual strong, empowered women are missing, causing the world of the man to collapse around him, resulting in his ultimate demise.

With The Skin I Live In taking such a different tact from Almodóvar’s previous works, it will be interesting to see what I’m So Excited will present us with. Whether Almodóvar continues to explore and pursue a new style, or return to ‘tradition’ and his much traversed stylistic identifiers , one thing can be said with prophetic confidence: we can expect a visual spectacle with laughs, some tears, and a great deal of entertainment.

Jenni Wright

I’M SO EXCITED! UK Gala Launch Screening followed by a Satellite Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar Live from Hackney Picturehouse will be hosted by the Grosvenor Cinema on Tuesday 23 April. Tickets for the evening can be purchased here.

almo