The Ogre’s Delight



True to his nature, Guillermo del Toro, in a conversation of more than an hour with journalist Didier Allouch, enchanted his audience of fans - and his Mexican friend Alfonso Cuarón, who had come to hear him - at the Comédie Odéon. He evoked the origins of his taste for the fantastic, the power of the imagination, the future of the cinema... Guillermo is loquacious, and articulate! Highlights.

 MC-del-toro-JLMEGE© Institut Lumière / Jean-Luc Mège


His origins

I had a shitty childhood. I spent a lot of time alone, thinking and observing, I read a lot. Fantasy, horror occupied an important place, via biology, zoology, anatomy and art. In my parents’ library, there was an encyclopedia of art that I read from A to Z, a medical encyclopedia whose reading made me think that I had all the diseases in the world. I would go see my mother: “I have a cirrhosis, I have this, I have that...”

If there is a definitive image, it come from a TV series, The Outer Limits and an episode entitled, The Mutant, with Warren Oates. A bald character with giant eyes... I started screaming when I saw him. According to my analyst, it created a Stockholm syndrome: I began to love monsters.s.


The Church

It was a strange childhood: a mix of comics, horror movies, television, encyclopedias and... the Catholic Church. The Church in Mexico is very gory in its representation of the Bible. In my church, a there was a Jesus with a broken bone. It was green and purple, and his face made him look like he was coming... I was told, "Receive the body of Christ." No, no thanks, too much gluten!

The creature of Pan’s Labyrinth was inspired by a sculpture of Saint Lucia, carrying her eyes on a plate. She had no eyes and she is bleeding. What we read was very gory. This mixture of virtue and violence, it screws with your head when you are a child.

I was a choir boy. It was in Guadalajara, in an incredible Gothic church - a bit as if an Aztec pyramid were smack in the middle of Paris. There were catacombs, and while we were saying our prayers for the Virgin Mary, we were looking for open crypts. There was one where one saw the two feet of a body, the sole of the shoe had been eaten by rats, one could see the bone, what remained of the muscles.

The idea of religion is screwed up in advance: When I was 4 years old, my grandmother told me, "You have to repent for the original sin." I was innocent, and she said to me, "You will scream from pain of the flames, but in the end, you will be able to escape, and if you want to escape more quickly, you can sacrifice yourself to Jesus." So, she took bottle caps, slipped them upside down in my shoes, so that my feet bleed. It lasted until my mother discovered my bloody socks.



I was raised by my grandmother for a long time. These memories are in my films, my imagination was formed by them. In her house, an old house, there was a long corridor and at the end, the bathroom. This corridor is in The Devil’s Backbone. I woke up, walked down the corridor and was afraid of a figure, a shadow.

From a very young age, I had vivid dreams: I woke up inside the dream and I was in my room, and it was a dream, but it looked real. Everything looked alive in the room: fingers trying to grab me, creatures under my bed.

Little by little, I saw something more honest in the monsters than in religion. The priest was average, but Frankenstein was brilliant, a much nicer picture than Jesus with his fractured bone. I began to worship them. My Holy Trinity was Frankenstein, the creature of the Black Lake and the werewolf. With monsters, there were no lies. Adults are supposed to protect you, but they beat you; at least with monsters, its honest. If you bathe in the creature's lagoon, you’ll die!


MC-del-toro-2JLMEGE© Institut Lumière / Jean-Luc Mège


Chronicles and myths

The fantastic is not a way of escaping reality but of deciphering it. Fairy tales gave birth to horror, they are very close to one another. Originally, we needed a parable to understand the world. The narrative comes from two complementary crafts: the caveman paints animals; Lumière brothers film the exit of their factory - these are chronicles. But when the caveman paints a snake eating the sun, giving birth to the moon, that is a myth. When Méliès makes films, it is a myth.

Every film I make is an altar to one thing in particular. Cronos is my tribute to the Hammer flicks. Pacific Rim is an homage to Japanese "animé" and kaijus movies. The Shape of Water is my altar for many things... These altars describe who I am. The artist organizes the world to paint a portrait of himself. It is impossible for art to be objective.


Talking about the cinema

I recently suggested to George Miller, and to Michael Mann yesterday, to take two weeks, and talk about cinema - about the cinema as an occupation, as an art that is constructed. And then to write books based on the discussions. Today, the cinema is in decline, and televisions series are on the rise. I'm a fan of both mediums. And the supremacy of the series in terms of characters and narrative is real. With downloads, we have an intimacy with the stories, we go to bed with them. We make love more with our ipads than with our partners!

When we bring up Walter White, the hero of Breaking Bad, everyone knows who he is. But films generate images that you can quote with precision: the elevator that opens in The Shining, the baby in 2001, the image of the razor slashing an eye in An Andalusian Dog. These are images that remain as a mythology. I love Deadwood and The Sopranos, but I cannot cite an image. A moment, yes, but I do not know the composition of the shot. The more we discuss images, the more we will elevate the level of cinema.


The business

Movies cost hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Everything you hope to earn during your whole life, you would have to multiply it by X to fund a movie. Of course, it’s rare: people who have money are assholes, they turn their heads when the filmmakers challenge them... And it is true that sometimes they are right: we screw up, and we made everybody lose. Because we're also assholes, but crazy assholes! One day I met a billionaire in Mexico. I told him: I'll make you millionaire...

Sometimes I would work for six months, sometimes two years, to create an entire world. And then the film doesn’t get made: it hurts, but it trains you. We are paid to refine our visual language. And life goes on. It just would have been a little better if Mountains of madness (an adaptation of Lovecraft that fell through) had come into being. 

An education

I have a collection of paintings, and I have exhibited the collection [with objects from his films and his pantheon of horror]. People see that there is a great variety of inspiration. I live in two communicating houses, with thirteen libraries. Houses made of books and works of art. You think that if you like horror, you only like train station novels. But by plunging into the history of fantasy literature, you soon come across Victor Hugo, Henry James, Lafcadio Hearn, Borges, etc. Like the cinema. One can start with Roger Corman's films and come across Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, or a Dreyer film ... The fantastic helps us live. Sometimes, even a bad movie saved my life.


Recueilli par Adrien Dufourquet

Categories: Lecture Zen