Monday, January 22, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth
I haven’t been updating the blog this week because I’m on vacation in Mexico right now (and I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch Heroes tonight, which is killing me!) But I wanted to blog about a film I saw last week that was fantastic.

Pan’s Labyrinth has been appearing on several year-end best-of lists of critics everywhere, while most people are completely unaware of it in the midst of nights at the museums and people stomping yards. Stephen King, writing for EW, called it the best movie he’s seen in five years (but then again, King often writes in one giant hyperbole). I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but I can honestly say it’s the most unique film I’ve seen in that long, if not longer.

In 1944 in Spain, a young girl, Ofelia, accompanies her pregnant mother to the house of her stepfather, who is a captain in the Spanish army. After the Civil War has been put down, the captain and his minions are searching out the rebels who are still fighting a losing battle, and getting rid of them, one by one. The captain is a vicious, brutal, awful man.

Meanwhile, behind the captain’s cottage, Ofelia discovers an ancient ruin of a labyrinth that, when one reaches the centre, reveals a long staircase that tunnels down into the earth. When she follows the stairs, she discovers a faun who informs her that years ago, another girl was the princess of the King of the Underworld, and she’d run away to the world above, immediately forgetting her former life. The king has spent the rest of his life trying to find his daughter’s soul reincarnated in another girl, and they believe it might be her. So they set up three tasks for her to perform, and if she can successfully perform them, she will be able to come and live in the kingdom of the underworld and rule as princess

Sound like a happy little fairy tale? It isn’t. There’s a reason this girl wants to escape her real life and accomplish these tasks. Her mother is a loving woman, but is beholden to her monster of a husband. Because the captain is not Ofelia's real father, he has no love for her (not that he would if she were really his daughter) and treats her like a nuisance he has to endure. He is a truly terrible person, and the scenes of him killing and torturing people are graphic beyond your wildest dreams. The mother’s pregnancy is a difficult one, so the bedridden mother cannot be a protector to her vulnerable daughter. . The faun is loving one moment, ruthless and vengeful the next, so he’s untrustworthy and one wonders if Ofelia should be following him or running away from him.

The tasks the girl has to endure are terrifying, grotesque, yet darkly funny. She’s brave in the face of danger (if sometimes not very bright) and no matter how scary her foes appear, you realize that nothing is as scary as the war and its effects on people living in the cottage. When faced with the final task, Ofelia is asked to make a terrible sacrifice, and stands between the danger of one world, and mortal peril of the other.

The special effects in this film are incredible. Pan, the fairies, and the monsters on the tasks are nightmarish creatures but they don’t look created by computers. There is a scene with a lifelike mandrake root that Ofelia uses to try to help her mother that is beguilingly freaky. One of my favourite moments in the film is when Ofelia is resting her head on her mother’s belly, telling a story to her unborn brother, and the camera pans down into the womb where we see the fetus moving around and then suddenly sitting still, listening intently to his sister’s tale.

This movie is a disturbing, frightening, and ultimately devastating look at the power of imagination, and what we do when faced with a horror that is too much for our minds to accept. I adored this film, and with it moving into a wider release, I’m hoping more audiences will be able to marvel at this wonder of a movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Academy agrees with you. This movie has recieved 6 or 7 nominations for the Oscars.