The Book Of Life

Art & Culture

Hollywood goes Mexican in this beautifully designed and only slightly confusing animated film which is presumably aimed at children, though may be a little over their heads. It's a treat to watch, but you have to pay close attention to ensure that you follow what's going on.

Manolo, Maria and Joaquin are childhood friends, who are separated when Maria is sent to Spain by her father. Returning to Mexico as a beautiful young woman, Maria finds that Manolo is now a bullfighter who wants to play his guitar, while Joaquin is a brave soldier, who is the only thing standing between their village and the local big bad bandit. Both Manolo and Joaquin are mad for Maria, who is an independent young woman, though not independent enough to resist both men and get a job as a chartered accountant.

What none of these young people know is that their lives are subject to the whims of La Muerte and Xibalba, the Mexican gods of life and death, who have a bet going between them about which of the young men Maria will marry. It is clear from the beginning that Manolo is the favoured choice, not only of La Muerta, but also of Maria, and by implication, of us, the audience. He is after all a bullfighter who doesn't want to kill bulls, and would much rather be strumming his instrument (there's one odd scene when Manolo performs a solo version of Radiohead's Creep, to express his unhappiness).

Manolo – like Orpheus, another top guitarist – has to go to the underworld in pursuit of Maria (who turns out not to be there), and meets his family instead, as well as a number of oddities like Candlemaker. Meanwhile Maria is faced with an uncomfortable choice, in the absence of her beloved. The film is the inspiration of Guillermo del Toro (or William Bull as we like to think of him as), and certainly meets the highest standards of visual flair and creativity, in its depiction of the various worlds and underworlds, but it is the swooping between these realities that made me worry occasionally whether children are going to be able to make sense of who is doing what to whom, where and why. 

But it makes a change from the regular diet of talking animals that we are usually offered, and for that, if for no other reason, it is welcome.


Phil Raby 

Front Row Films 

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