Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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            Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a fantasy film for adults; a film that has the usual fantasy trappings of mazes and monsters and spells and intricate insular rules that the heroine must follow or else be killed/eaten/denied her rightful place on the throne, and combines them with the harsh realities of coping with a new family, budding sexuality, clinging desperately onto one’s own childhood, and, biggest of all, facing the violence of real-life war. It is one of the best films of 2006.

            The fantasy elements of “Pan’s Labyrinth” are not the safe, bright magical whimsies of “Lord of the Rings” or “Stardust.” They are dark and muddy and terrifying. Death is a close brother to the adventure. When we meet the faun (Doug Jones) for the first time, he is not a sprightly little Mr. Tumnus with rosy cheeks and a hand-knit muffler. He is a large, lumbering, mud-caked goat demon, who makes grand promises, but many vaguely sinister threats toward the 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). When Ofelia faces a repugnant subterranean toad, it bleeds and sweats, and leaves trails of filth. When she meets the Pale Man (also Jones), a creature with eyes in the palms of its hands, its lumbers after her, truly intent on gore. Even the faeries are fleshy and bleed when pricked. Every fantasy sequence (including a bowl of milk and a wiggling mandrake root) has the desperate weight of death right next o it; as if the world would crumble if Ofelia were to fail in any of her assigned tasks.

 

            And why must she so desperately cling to the Faun’s promises?

 

            Raging around Ofelia is the fall of Fascist Spain, 1944. Her mom (Ariadna Gil) is pregnant with a fascist generals’ baby, and the two of them have been called out to a dying woodland outpost to track down and kill any antifascist resistance living in the woods. The fascist general is Capitán Vidal (Sergi López), and he is an unkind man. He looks in on his mate often enough to check on the status of his heir, and clearly sees her as a broodmare. When a pair of rabbit hunters are found in the woods, he commandeers one of their hunting tools and calmly beats one of them bloody. Then beats some more until he’s a dead pulp. Then takes the rabbits and asks them to be roasted. His calm violent coldness is more terrifying than any Pale Man.

 

            Ofelia is torn between the horror of reality, and the horror of fantasy. At least one of these worlds offers promise to her, but neither is especially pleasant.

 

            Also at the crumbling outpost is Mercedes (Maribel Verdú from “Y Tu Mamá También”), and inside woman for the very real antifascists living in the woods. The fascists in Spain are obviously on the outs, and the outpost is clearly doomed. The base is no less dangerous because of this, though. The dangerous men and creatures lurking about are like snapping dying animals, ready to create a memory, and take people down with them.

 

            And this is all seen through the eyes of a young girl, whose fate and future seem uncertain and possibly painful, but hopeful enough for us to cling desperately to her, and hope dearly for the monsters’ (real and imagined) downfall.

             “Pan’s Labyrinth” is poetic, dark, beautiful, frightening, and exhilarating. Director Del Toro has cemented his reputation as a master of the new Mexican cinema along with contemporaries Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, and any of their films are things to look forward to.

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Published in: on September 11, 2007 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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