Sunday, October 10, 2010

René Castillo

I thought I should post something on this auspicious day of 10/10/10, after all, this kind of thing only occurs twelve times every one thousand years. Today my husband and I spent an enjoyable day in the canyon, taking photographs of the turning foliage, my favorite autumn activity.

Along with the turning leaves comes Halloween, and shortly thereafter, The Day of the Dead, the lively Mexican celebration where the worlds of the living and dead collide for one night. I thought to pay homage I would feature a Mexican animator I recently discovered whose style is reminiscent of dancing skeletons, sugar skulls, and Tim Burtonesque aesthetics.

I first saw René Castillo's film, Hasta los Huesos (Down To the Bone, 2001) on You Tube, that great democratizing force for art. It's an 11 minute short about a man who finds himself being buried alive in a coffin (a common fear for many people), and then winds up in a moody, underworld lounge filled with dancing, singing, and drunken skeletons. Please enjoy the film.

There were a lot of original lyrics left out of the film, but here is my translation of the lyrics from the song performed by the Catrina, Eugenia León:


No sé que tienen las flores llorona, las flores del campo santo
(I don't know what it is about those weeping flowers, those flowers in the sacred field)
Que cuando las mueve el viento llorona, parece que están llorando
(But when the wailing wind blows through them they seem to cry)
Ay de mí llorona, llorona (...something inaudible)
(Oh, my weeping woman...)
Aunque vive el cuerpo dolor lo dejaré de quererte
(even though a body of pain still lives, I will stop loving you)
Aunque el dolor me cueste llorando dejaré de quererte
(even though the pain of crying is great, I will stop loving you)
Dos besos llevo en el alma llorona que no se apartan de mí
(Two kisses which will never leave me, I carry in my weeping soul)
El último a de mi madre llorona y el primero que te dí
(My mother's final day of weeping was the first day I gave to you)

My guess is the man running from the hungry worm is symbolic of our own reluctance to accept death as a natural part of the life cycle, and the Catrina is Death trying to console him. She reminds him that life is painful and miserable, and death is a release that should not be feared. In the end the man finally relents, gives his mourning flower to her to put in her hat, and then consumes the alcohol & worm that will eventually consume him.

Up on the surface an aged worm crawls by slowly, one who has probably aided in the decomposition of many bodies during his time. A young boy riding in the cemetery drags the worm from behind his tricycle, and then callously squashes him, making the cycle all that more complete. Whether by the slow hand of time, or the cruel hand of fate, death comes to us all, the consumers and the consumed.

Castillo's style and quality of claymation is very professional, it almost reminds me of the short-lived Fox series, The PJ's.

Most of all, his character animation is very convincing. We can feel the fear of the sweating man in his newly found predicament, and we can sense the character of the Catrina even though she has no eyes nor "face"; all of this he acheives without a word being spoken (other than the song, of course), which makes it a great film for crossing language barriers.

As you watched the film you probably couldn't help but notice a resemblance to Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride (2005), released 4 years after Hasta los Huesos. I wonder if Burton or his crew ever saw this animation? It's hard to say who inspired who since The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1992, so I think they probably simultaneously inspired each other's work.

There is not much written about Castillo other than since 1996 he has directed short films, produced animated TV commercials, and taught workshops on animation. He co-wrote and co-directed the animated short Sin Sosten, which screened at Cannes and received numerous national and international awards, and Hasta los Huesos premiered at the Annecy Animation Film Festival and screened in festivals in Mexico and abroad, including Huesca, Toronto, and Biarritz. The film received an Ariel Award, among other honors. Castillo studied communications at the Instituto Technologico and Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO) in Guadalajara.

The next film I will review is Castillo's short, Sin Sosten (No Support, 1998), which he made prior to Hasta los Huesos. Unfortunately I can only review two of Castillo's films because his others (Ojo por Ojo (1995), Oye (1994), and Guitamorfosis (1992)) do not seem to be available for viewing anywhere on the web. Please enjoy the 5 minute short.

There's that twisted sense of humor again. I guess in the end the man had plenty of support, eh? He he. Not enough for him to go on apparently. Oh well, at least he died happy.

I've seen some other animations from Mexican artists as well and they often choose death/suicide as a theme. I suppose it's their way of expressing the underlying anxieties many of their people experience, particularly those who must deal with a strenuous life of unfair working conditions and a turbulent political atmosphere.

Art often puts a mirror up to society, so what is this film trying to tell us? I'm sure the billboards of beautiful white people have something to do with it. An anti-Imperialist-propaganda message perhaps? A comment on the false hope portrayed in the media? Maybe it's much simpler than that.

Regardless, I am grateful I found some of Castillo's work. It's refreshing to see the talent offered by other countries and I hope we can all be exposed more often to it in the future.



  1. He's a great artist, animator & filmmaker! When I was at the University of Florida he was our guest of honor. Circa 2003.

  2. Is there any other work that this man has. and I was wondering if you could help me . I remeber a claymation with the song Toro Mata in it and ive been looking for it and cant find it. Hve you come acrossed it by chance let me know thanks