Films made outside the US, especially those in a language other than English, have a hard time making a big impact in US cinemas. Usually. Guillermo Del Toro's Spanish-language film Pan's Labyrinth, showing on SBS One at 9.30pm this Saturday, is an exception. Judged on box office revenue and according to boxofficemojo.com, it is the fifth most successful foreign-language film in the US, which says much about the quality and appeal of this extraordinarily imaginative film. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from Taiwan tops the foreign-language hit list followed by Life is Beautiful from Italy, Hero from China, and this year's Instructions Not Included from Mexico.)
Del Toro's debut film Cronos was made in Mexico, where he was born, and Pan's Labyrinth was made in Spain, both in the Spanish language. Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Pacific Rim, the two films he has directed since Pan's Labyrinth, were both made in English but he regularly produces films made in Spain and Mexico and other countries too, including Australia in the case of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Earlier this year, while on the publicity trail for the big-budget blockbuster Pacific Rim, he said here that a filmmaker cannot aspire to do a movie that is as quirky as Pan's Labyrinth in the Hollywood machinery.
“It would get tested and noted by executives to death. It would end up having a happy ending and all that bullshit. And at the same time you cannot end up with a movie that is as spectacular and huge and magnificent in showmanship as Pacific Rim if you do it in Mexico or Spain. So depending on the scale of the story, depending on if you need to protect the production value and spectacle or if you need to protect the content and quirkiness of the story, you go from one [end of the] scale to another.”
Yet these comments sit slightly at odds with what he's said about his next project, horror film Crimson Peak, which goes into production in February in North America. Australia's Mia Wasikowska is among the cast and, like Pacific Rim, it is principally backed by Legendary Pictures.
“Crimson Peak is a much, much, much smaller movie, completely character-driven,” said Del Toro here. “It's an adult movie, an R-rated movie, pretty adult. Shockingly different from anything I've done in the English language… This movie's tone is scary and it's the first time I get to do a movie more akin to what I do in the Spanish movies.”
It is not wise to generalise about the output of the big complex beast that is Hollywood and Del Toro is a smart, pragmatic filmmaker at the top of his game. All I hope is that Crimson Peak has the visual splendor and magic and heart of Pan's Labyrinth, one of the best films of contemporary times.
What Del Toro hopes is that it's beautiful, or at least that's what he said here in Rolling Stone this week: “Crimson Peak is an R-rated movie from the get-go. At the same time, it's a sincere, beautiful, classical gothic romance that's very violent and very kinky, in a way… I hope it's going to be my most beautiful movie.”