Ever since witnessing The Devil’s Backbone (2001) many years ago, it has become a very personal favourite of mine. Not only because of its outstanding direction, beautiful cinematography and genuine performances, but because of the haunting but very human message at its heart.

After spotting a showing hosted by the new independent pop-up Snowcat Cinema I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to see one of my favourite films on the big screen for the first time.

Frustrated by his experience in Hollywood with Mimic, Del Toro returned to the fantastical roots found in his debut feature Cronos with The Devil’s Backbone. As with his critically acclaimed offering; Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Del Toro sets his story against the context of the Spanish Civil War. Here the narrative develops through the eyes of the war’s abandoned children at an orphanage, the last refuge from the violence which has engulfed the countryside outside.

With his opening sequence, the director conjures an atmosphere which haunts the individual arcs of its characters and the audience’s own viewing experience alike. Through this sequence, Del Toro also awaken’s the film’s core message. This is a message which is emphasised throughout the film by the director’s masterful use of imagery and it is this; The ghosts to which humanity is blind, are those which doom us to repeat its bloody and tragic history. Tellingly Marisa Paredes’s character, Carmen, comments early in the film “Sometimes I think we are the ghosts”.

 

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As the narrative develops we gradually begin to learn more about the orphanages’ dark past and the ‘one that sighs’ through the eyes of our main character Carlos. This is expertly balanced with the anxieties of our main character as he struggles to fit into his new surroundings. We also come to learn about the tragic and intertwined pasts of our other characters, including Carmen, the Orphanage’s headmistress, doctor Cásares and her lover and the orphanage’s bitter caretaker, Jacinto. As with any good filmmaker, Del Toro achieves excellent and sincere performances from the whole of the cast to bring these characters and their individual stories to life, including Fernando Tielve as our protagonist Carlos.

Equally, using his composure behind the camera and with the help of cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and composer Javier Navarrete, Del Toro crafts many scenes to impress and capture the viewer. This includes gothic-tinged images of Santi walking the corridors of the orphanage at night. Santi himself is an equally fantastical and horrifying creation, an unseen but haunting reminder for our characters of the escalating civil war and of their own personal regrets and demons.

At the centre of many of these images is the unexploded bomb in the middle of the orphanage’s courtyard which we witness descend from a plane at the start of the film. This also becomes an important visual element to the story. In many ways, it is just as much a ghost as Santi, simply another looming spectre of the war.

Though not as well-known as his most celebrated work; Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone offers an equally powerful message about the monsters which hide within men. Much like in Pan’s Labyrinth, the most disturbing and powerful scenes found within the film are those where there are no ghosts, only man’s inhumanity.

To this end, The Devil’s Backbone is a truly timeless piece of filmmaking and one which we can all learn.

Snowcat Cinema’s next genre offering will be Philip’s Kaufman’s own excellent 1978 take on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers later this month on the 29th March. You can found out more info about them and future screenings in Penarth and at the Crafty Devil Bar in Cardiff on their Facebook page here.

The headlines tell us employment is going in a positive direction, representative of what Mr Brettell, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, describes as a ‘resilient UK jobs market’. For those with autism however it is a different picture.

According to recent figures by the ONS, UK unemployment fell by 7,000 to 1.6 million. For 84% of autistic adults, however, this hides a statistic which should shame a society from which the NHS was founded and that, as successive governments like to remind us, ‘works for everyone.’

According to the National Autistic Society only 16% of adults are in full-time employment, a fact which has not changed in a decade, when a previous survey put the figure at 15%.

Unemployment does not only rob many with autism of their potential but it can also lead to mental health problems, low-esteem and self-doubt, as the video below illustrates. In order for the wider picture to change however, employers need to understand that being autistic doesn’t define an individuals abilities or potential and with the right support autistic individuals can shine. Indeed, employing an autistic individual is an opportunity for employers to learn and develop themselves, not an obstacle. Common strengths that many autistic individuals possess include hyper-focus, imagination and reliability.

For myself and am sure for many others with Autism receiving a rejection email can, at least, in that very moment, be soul-crushing. Yet, even a bit of feedback makes that blow a little easier and for those employers, family and friends who believe in me, I will always be extremely grateful.

 

 

Statistics also make clear that 77% of those with autism do want to work. I am sure they are many, like me, who often struggle to get a good nights sleep, asking themselves over and over in their minds, when will I find that one understanding employer?

As you might guess by the title of this article this picture issue to be equally challenging for those with autism in Wales and indeed, Cardiff. What makes Cardiff uniquely placed to make a difference however, is that it is home to the first national autism research centre in the UK. Established in 2010, the Wales Autism Research Centre has undertaken internationally recognised research in the areas of behaviour and diagnosis, biological and cognitive processes and families and relationships in its mission to advance scientific understanding of autism.

As a city which celebrates and welcomes diversity, I believe that the opportunity is there for Cardiff to become home to leading autistic employment and make create a society which does truly work for everyone, autistic or not.