Sunday, July 29, 2007

#18: Cronos (Guillermo del Toro, 1993)

Almost everyone loved Guillermo del Toro's most recent film, Pan's Labyrinth, and I did, too. Some of the over-the-top gushing for the movie got a little cloying, particularly Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black's wishes for the film to be implanted in his skin and on the inside of his eyelids and for the memory of the film to replace the other memories in his head (??), but you can't blame Nirvana for Candlebox. It was a great movie, never mind a nation of fanboys' urine-stained pants. With Pan's Labyrinth relatively fresh in my mind, it was enlightening to go back and watch Cronos, del Toro's first film, again.

It's about an elderly antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, who takes care of his young granddaughter. He finds what looks like a gold replica of a scarab beetle inside an old angel statue and winds it up. Some mechanical legs protract and then stab into the man's skin. The device, Cronos, invented by an alchemist in the 1500s, has, unbeknownst to the antiques dealer, rendered him immortal. To retain his immortality, he'll need to suck down some fresh human blood. Unfortunately for Gris, he doesn't want to be immortal. He just wants to run his shop, hang out with his wife, and take care of his granddaughter. Meanwhile, an evil American owner of a Mexican factory (played by Mexican actor and Luis Bunuel regular Claudio Brook) who is slowly dying from cancer has been tracking the Cronos device for years and wants it bad. He sends his thuggish nephew (Ron Perlman) to bust some heads and get it from Gris.

Cronos, like Pan's Labyrinth, is full of childlike fantasy, humor, brief bursts of intense violence, unsentimental but affectionate familial relationships between a little girl and her parent (or in this case, grandparent), and an acceptance of death as an inevitable, natural part of life. It also features excellent performances from everyone in it, particularly Federico Luppi as Gris, Ron Perlman, and Tamara Shanath, whom Jonathan Rosenbaum correctly describes as "a highly expressive little girl."
For a young guy who'd never made a feature film before, del Toro's style, technical skill, and visual expressiveness were already fully formed. Although more modest in ambition and scope than his later work, Cronos doesn't look like a first film. He's a born filmmaker.

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