Film response: The Book of Life

The colorism animated by this less-than-lively Mexican folklore film (heavily altered by Hollywood biases and priorities) makes it hard to recommend.

Originally published on Letterboxd, with no likes.

The Book Of Life
Directed by Jorge Gutierrez
95 min, USA, 2014

Although I marvelled at the character design (I loved La Muerte) and some elements of the production such as backgrounds, the whole look of this heavily Hollywoodized culturally-watered-down “Mexican” film is too cluttered and dense for me to call it beautiful.

I also found a bit creepy the clear distinction between characters of primarily European descent (the heroic bullfighting Sanchez family mostly have small angular noses and light, pretty faces) and peoples of other (mestizo, I guess?) origins (The noses, mouths, and skin tones of the band of outlaws lead by Chakal, um, really stick out. The most comical and/or evil characters have the same noses as the pigs.). It’s not that phenotypical differences between groups can’t be or shouldn’t be depicted; it’s that one group is stylized and coded one way and the other is caricatured and coded in another. The Book of Life feels like a pretty clear (and pretty authentic) visual representation of colorism. That’s my take anyway.

I guess one could overlook all that if the story and its climax weren’t so mechanical and rote. After all, the strongest human moment in the story occurs between dissenting Manolo Sanchez and a visual representation of the souls of dead bulls (which is animated like a Peter-Jackson Balrog, by the way). The love story? Meh.

Compared to Coco and its respect for Mexican aesthetics, languages, tones, and cultures, this is pretty soulless.


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