Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I find myself wondering why this was not nominated for best picture. It is Mexico's submission for best foreign film, but I think it could have easily competed in the top category. This movie was fascinating, dark, and at times hard to watch. It was billed as a fairy tale for grownups, and that's exactly what it is. It follows in the traditional of old fairy tales which were violent, gruesome, and not always happy- unlike the Disney'd versions that we've all come to expect. I saw this movie on a Friday night in a college town. I was thrilled to see that even in a setting where most people would probably rather go out drinking, there were two sold-out showings of it. This movie gives me faith that there is still room for truly imaginative cinema.

The story follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) a twelve year old girl fascinated with fairy tales, and her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil), as they move into the mountains to live with her new father (Sergi Lopez) who is a cruel captain in Franco's army. It takes place in 1944, and the captain is stationed there to quell a rebellion. Almost immediately upon arriving, Ofelia discovers a labyrinth with strange creatures in it. The opening monologue indicates that there is a princess of the underworld that became lost in humanity, and her family is waiting for her return. Ofelia follows a series of tests to see if she is indeed this princess. This foray into fantasy (as difficult as it is) provides an escape to the horrible life at the hands of her new father.

There are two parallel stories at work here- one is with Ofelia and the fantasy world, and the other is with the captain and the rebellion. As with many fairy tales, a dark and cruel world is painted and the fantasy provides a foil with hope. In this case, the dark real world is the captain and the Spanish civil war. The movie features some rather disturbing scenes of torture, sealing the fact that this is a story for adults, and not a fairy tale for children. I actually had difficulty watching a few shots. Guillermo Del Toro does a fantastic job of juxtaposing the two worlds against each other- creating the idea of fantasy in a world where as Ofelia's mother puts it, "There is no magic."

My only complaint about how the movie was done was that I feel it over romanticized the Spanish Civil War. The captain was bad- very bad, and the rebels were good- entirely good. I immediately distrust anything that so blatantly tries to focus my sympathies like that. I suppose, though, that this is above all else, a fantasy movie. This means that you should suspend your disbelief and accept the world he creates, instead of imposing historical accuracy on it.

The acting was superb. It's so refreshing to see a movie with a cast that I've never heard of. Ivana Baquero was seriously a star. She had incredible emotional range, and was convincing in everything that she did. Most of the other characters seemed fairly one dimensional, but she was outstandingly deep. I honestly would not have been surprised by a best actress nod for her. Adriana Gil, who plays her mother had a bit of a smaller role, but handled it amply. I think Sergi Lopez was the weakest, but only because his role was the most shallow.

This movie is visually stunning. I believe it's up for an Oscar in Art Direction as well as Make-up. I strongly feel it deserves the make-up. It's original and a bit disturbing. The only part that bugged me was Guillermo's reliance on a certain editing technique that briefly took me out of the movie. You can tell that if I'm digging that deep for negative criticism, the movie was awfully good.

In the end, it's actually debatable whether it's happy or sad. Does it want you to focus on the innocence of imagination, or the cruelties of the world? Honestly, I don't know. I have my own thoughts, but each person can easily have different ones. I'd love for your thoughts on this one. If it gives away anything, however, put a spoiler warning on it so people who haven't seen it won't read it.



bassoonchick said...

I was waiting for your review ever since I heard the interview with the director, Guillermo del Toro, on NPR's Fresh Air. The interview was really good, but you know my squeamish stomach, I doubt I could watch the movie...

the link;

did I ever tell you I love the way you tell stories...? keep writing harry

Shawn said...

Personally I think the first thing of this film that should be discussed is indeed the ending. There is the matter at hand as to whether or not the ending is to be happy or sad. Between the shots of the corpse, and the fantasy world overall only being found in a small portion of the film, it can be mostly considered that the shots of her becoming a princess are to be seen as her dying visions. The true argument at hand for the ending is to whether the intention is to see the beauty of imagination, or how the cruel harsh world of reality has no place for dreams and magic, killing the girl to keep itself clean. Putting the overall explicit focus on violence and evil in the film. Seeing so many other people die, its hard to view the ending in any positive light but for rather, the dark finalization of her story ending in death falling in line with the stories of all so many others in the film. This film seems to truly represent that in such a world of turmoil, and in a place of particular exaggeration of a captain having murderous ways, even a girl believing in magic and imagination can not manage to survive and escape the fate befalling those around her. Even considering the film was violent, dark, tainted to completely portray the military as evil with the rebels as pure good; this film manages to be truly heart grabbing and absolutely beautiful. For being able to represent so many negatives and still come off as film that you just have to love for its originality and creativity, one becomes to instantly love all of the mixed emotions it leaves with you.

For making perhaps the most memorable film I have seen in quite some time, and achieving its own unique balance of torture filled war and a girl's magical world. This film only loses gaining a full five stars for slight excessive violence and the writer proved his skills so much that the war portrayl could have been a little less fictional feeling and a tad more realistic. I also give: