American Cup #4 of 4 Initial Matches:’Cronos’ (1993) vs. ‘Caliche sangriento’ (1969)

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‘Cronos’ (1993, Guillermo del Toro)

vs.

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‘Caliche sangriento’ (1969, Helvio Soto) Bloody Nitrate

I’m so late. I’m truly truly late. I couldn’t have predicted that the same days as the Copa America would happen would be filled with so much stuff to do. I am promising myself that I’m finishing this nonsense as soon as I can, and I’ll have a champion not before long. So, what’s up with this match? We have a returning team, my home country, Chile, and a new one, Mexico. Chile lost last year on the first round against a very powerful film from Uruguay, so that meant that I had no chance of exploring my country’s own filmography beyond that first film. So, this year we have two wonderful people helping out with the films for the matches: for Mexico we have Éric Ortiz García (ScreenAnarchy) whom I met when we started writing for TwitchFilm together and we’ve commented films (and sometimes sport) on Twitter, and he was kind enough to send me his favorite films from his own country; on the other hand, for Chile, I wanted to have a critic dear to me, but that didn’t take my project seriously, so I asked Marcelo Morales (Cinechile.cl) and he kindly gave me his choices for the best Chilean films that he’s seen, and he delivered a great list with classics that I hadn’t seen yet.

So, without much else to add, let’s get right to it!

***

‘Cronos’ announces itself, first and foremost, as a record holder, as it makes the third film that stars Federico Luppi that I’ve had the pleasure to watch for these Cups. Last year it was ‘Tiempo de revancha’ (1981), which also was the best film I had the chance to see, and this year we had the Argentinian film by Leonardo Favio and now this horror film, directed by Guillermo del Toro. I won’t deny that I was pretty excited when I was told that I was finally going to have a reason to watch the feature-length directorial debut of the wonderful Guillermo del Toro, now an American blockbuster filmmaker, and see how his talent evolved from his native Mexico. It had been mentioned many times not only as a Mexican film, but also as one of the most interesting and visually inventive horror films at the time, when we were flooded with the aftermath-y afterthoughts of franchises from the 80’s that had survived their own slashing deaths and resurrections. And I must say, for what it is, it’s really original as it tries to hide a vampire narrative under so many wraps that one feels that you’re watching one of those films that takes into account, or assumes, that people haven’t seen a vampire film, or a werewolf film, or a zombie film, or whatever it is, and they try to explain everything as if to make it sound.While the film does eventually go down that route (and then avoids it because who honestly cares about explaining things), it still manages to surprise with its opening sequence, that puts Fulcanelli (one of my favorite mythical fake authors) as the creator of the Cronos device that will convert Luppi into a vampire. It’s really curious when stuff like this happens, when people try to make new and original narratives around the formulaic and tired concepts of horror, but they do it in a way that makes constant reference without any of the characters actually uttering the word ‘vampire’. I find that ultimately frustrating, but del Toro tries his best to make us care for the main character and his misunderstood struggle to both take advantage of the youth and power that the artifact has given him, and his daily life as an antique dealer who is taking care of his granddaughter. I can’t complain about the visuals, that are gorgeous, and the acting is great, and so is the makeup, the slow reveal of the marbled face of Jesus (Christian allegory!) was superbly done, but for some reason I don’t think this wowed me as it would have, say, five years ago. This predates ‘El día de la bestia’ (1995) for a couple of years, and has some moments that reminded me of the masterpiece Álex de la Iglesia film, but in the end the Spanish film is superior because it takes the tradition of both horror and films to face value, and it makes fun of it at the same time as respects it and also references it in a visual manner. I think that Guillermo del Toro is a magnificent aesthetic director, who peaked at ‘El laberinto del fauno’ (2006), but he personally didn’t get to that level with this debut, that surely made him step into the market and into the industry. Let that be a lesson for all of us. You can make a really good movie and then make giant robots fight each other for fun.

8/10

‘Caliche sangriento’ is one of the most surprising Chilean films that I knew little about. It’s always mentioned among the best films of our cinematography and it’s very deserving of that title, as it puts the history of the country into perspective and with a political message, that across the centuries still feels real and poignant in our modern world. The film chronicles the misadventures of a regiment as it travels through the Atacama desert, the most arid desert in the world, in the most important and savage war that the continent had known since its independence: The War for the Pacific. With their blue and red uniforms, the Chilean army plows through the desert, but this isn’t a film of victory and heroes, as they are subjected to the climate and the apparent incompetence of their leader, that doesn’t seem to know much about the objectives nor what they are supposed to do in the wide landscape that surrounds them. Little by little, this film turns into a slasher and later into a western as they find a settlement of Peruvians that they can attack and find a victory put in their belt. It’s kind of a slasher because they start with 17 men and they are slowly withering away due to different circumstances of war, and not all of them are battles with the enemy, as they are mostly battles among themselves or against the harsh nature, or their own insanity, product of the heat of the sun. It’s an epic of the un-epic nature of the travel through the desert, of the war that no one truly cares about, of the battle for the economy of others, and this political metaphor, said by a compromised soldier that seems to be more ‘woke’ than the rest, may be heard as blunt and a bit excessive in today’s standards, but the powerful nature of the speech, specially at a time where these kind of discourses that confront history with what’s behind it weren’t that common, specially when they are so critical of the government of the past and how the story seems to repeat itself, first with nitrate and now with the overbearing control of international money over copper as our most important export. While this seems to take a more personal route, I do think that there’s an aesthetic value in the way that the film is shot, putting the characters as small objects in a barren landscape, as if they were little more than pieces in a board game, but more as if they were insignificant little specs in the beautiful desert of Chile, as if the wind were about to take them away any moment. The film does turn into an almost Fordian western with a mixture of Italian spaghetti western, with the way that its shot and framed, as well as how the action unfolds. It’s one of the great ones, and the only thing that diminishes its power is how the brief section at night isn’t shot in a way that makes it seem natural, it’s a weird mixture of some over-exposure or a very bad Day for Night. Still, great.

8/10

Well, this seems like a tie, at least on paper. But for me the film that wins this round is ‘Caliche sangriento’ (1969), that means that Chile advances and will have a match with Peru. Hope you all enjoyed this and let’s see how the rest of the matches go.

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