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Friday, 8 June 2007

Cronos (1993) Guillermo Del Toro

In 1536 an alchemist, obsessed with finding the secret of immortality and he may just have done it. He invented the Cronos device and four hundred years later was found in the rubble of a collapsed building with a pierced chest. He was the colour of marble but was still alive, at least that far, and when the contents of his house were sold at auction, the Cronos device was never mentioned. It turns up again, of course, in the antique shop of Jesús Gris, hidden inside the statue of an archangel. Angel de la Guardia picks it up for his dying uncle who is in possession of the alchemist's manuscripts. He's been buying up every archangel he could find because he knows that somewhere inside one of them is the Cronos device.

Given that Angel is being played by the unique Ron Perlman, it's a mysterious purchase. Perlman has a ball here, working well in both languages in this English and Spanish production. He seems a little out of place but he relishes in it and is funny as hell instilling character into the role. This is far a comedy but it has more than a little humour in it, appropriate and otherwise, while breathing life into the old vampire story. Federico Luppi is a fine lead, Claudio Brook and Margarita Isabel are also decent, and young Tamara Shanath is only lacking in direct comparison to young Ivana Baquero in Pan's Labyrinth, but it's Perlman's show all the way. No wonder he ended up in so many of Guillermo Del Toro's movies!

What Angel doesn't end up with after recovering the archangel is the Cronos device itself, which after being wound sprouts clawed feet and tears a hole in Jesús's hand. With a little trial and error he discovers how it works and soon also discovers its rejuvenating powers even before the de la Guardias trash his store and make its value obvious. From then on it becomes even more bizarre, as they persevere in recovering it to save Dieter de la Guardia's life and Jesús perseveres in blocking them, at no small cost to himself.

This is the most recent entry in a list called 100 Best Movies of the Cinema of Mexico, published in 1994 by a Mexican magazine called Somos. It wouldn't be the most recent in a newer list but it serves well as the future of a nation's cinema. Guillermo Del Toro has proved himself to be an innovative and versatile filmmaker, along with other more recent names like Alfonso Cuarón and the future of Mexican film looks bright, whatever language its filmmakers choose to use. I've seen three previous entries, all made by the then Spanish expatriot Luis Buñuel and as much as I'm a confirmed Buñuel fan, it's good to widen my Mexican horizons, especially as I live in West Phoenix and have no real excuse not to!

There's a nod to Chinatown again, just as in Pan's Labyrinth, but there are other influences too, Highlander being the most obvious. Del Toro reused some of his concepts in the later film too, from the use of insects to the way he transitions from one location to another and even to the way that he shoots a death scenes. The way the vampirism is treated is completely unique though, with the vampire being a sympathetic character in a very different way. Cronos isn't as great as I was hoping but it's still great and I look forward to a revisit sometime not too far away.

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