Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

by Jackrabbit Slim

Pan's Labyrinth, from director Guillermo Del Toro, is a sumptuous feast of a film, building on the archetypal story elements of fairy tales, but set in a very real, very scary modern time period. The story concerns a young girl, Ofelia, in Spain in 1944. Her father has been killed in the war, and her mother has remarried to an officer, Captain Vidal, in Franco's military. He is stationed at a remote rural outpost, hunting resistance fighters in the woods. Since Ofelia's mother is pregnant with the officer's child, he wants her there when the baby is born, despite the hardship of the travel.

Ofelia loves books, particularly fairy tales. When her mother tells her she has a surprise for her, Ofelia immediately wonders, "Is it a book?" Her vivid imagination allows her to remove herself from the misery of her current situation, but when a large winged insect starts following her around and then leads her to a stone maze on the grounds of the house where she is staying, the stories from her picture books seems to be all too real.

Ofelia meets a faun (in English he is called Pan) who, in a marvel of movie creativity, manages to be both cuddly and menacing. He tells Ofelia that she is the long lost princess of his world, and that if she can complete three tasks, she will resume her rightful place on the throne. In the meantime, the insanities of the conflict around her continue. Her mother is in very bad health. The guerrillas in the woods are being aided by a kindly woman who works for the Captain, and she must remain vigilant that she won't get found out, because the Captain has a fetish for torture.

Del Toro does a wonderful job of taking us back and forth between the bleak reality of war to the surreal world of Ofelia's fairy tale, parts of which are quite scary (the scene involving an eyeless creature who seems to like skewering babies is particularly frightening), but are also quite beautiful. The Captain is one of the more awful villains in recent memory, a man who is devoted to military discipline and the ghost of his father, a general who was killed in battle.

Ofelia is played by Ivana Baquero, who is quite good. She is imaginative, without being precocious, and rightly plays her scenes around the Captain is a kind of permanent clench of fear. When she is in her fantasy world, though, she knows she is the heroine of her own story.

Interestingly, it is left ambiguous as to whether her fantasies are real or not, and I think a definitive answer to that is irrelevant, as the world is certainly real to Ofelia, which is what matters most.


Blogger Brian said...

I loved it too. Really loved it.

There's so many great things about it, but what really makes it special is the writing. It reminds me of all those times I read William Goldman talking about how structure, not dialogue, is what makes a great screenplay. The film is so expertly structured, the way the "real-life" events parallel the fairy tale events, and then finally come together ... it's wonderful. And a perfect, heartbreaking ending.

I still have stuff to see, but this is movie of the year so far in my opinion. Maybe the movie of the last several years.

Just magnificent.

1/17/2007 11:19:00 AM  

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