Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I can't remember the last time I was as excited about seeing a movie as I was sitting there waiting for "Pan's Labyrinth" to start.

Sure, I remember my parents indulging my brother and I by taking time out of their California vacation to let us queue up for blocks to see "The Empire Strikes Back," but I mean as a somewhat-fully functioning adult. Ever since I heard about it way back before Cannes, this movie has been all alone atop my must-see list, and somehow it still didn't disappoint one bit.

In reading about this rare fantasy for adults, I had seen valid comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, Brazil and many other movies (and, thanks to Mimi at the Movies, a reminder about the great Spirit of the Beehive), but what these mini-homages within "Pan's Labyrinth" really show us is just how much Guillermo del Toro loves movies. As a work of surprisingly high art, del Toro's movie stands apart from all these great flicks, in a unique world all its own.

If anything, I'd compare it very favorably to M. Night Shymalan's excremental "Lady in the Water." Whereas the formerly great M. Night purported to give us a "bedtime story" but just delivered dreck, del Toro starts with this premise and turns it into so much more.

The girl who creates this story, Ofelia, is played with refreshing restraint by Ivana Baquero. As the movie opens, we see her reading a tale about a princess of the underworld who finds herself on the surface and yearns to return. And from this deceptively simple story, Ofelia constructs a refuge from the real-world hell she finds herself in. Her mother, played by Ariadna Gil, has, for survival instead of love, married Capitan Vidal, the definition of evil as delivered by Sergi Lopez. At the outset, mom is very much pregnant, and the two of them are going to live with Capitan Vidal as he and his men work to wipe out the resistance to Franco's fascist regime.

A fun world for a kid, eh? Seen through her eyes, the very graphic violence perpetrated by the fascists seems even more brutal. Two things that amazed me about the fantasy world she creates to escape from this were that I never once thought it wasn't something that could come from the mind of a 12-year-old, and also that every step in the journey she creates for herself gives her the courage to do what she must in the real world around her.

I don't want to give too much away about this journey because this movie is all about the thrill of discovery. I'll just say you'll see things that might initially shock, but will keep you riveted. My favorite would have to be the mandrake root, both as it comes to life and then perishes. And why would you have one of the challenges be to make a giant toad vomit and then belch all over our heroine? Because this is a story created by a kid, and we never forget that no matter how dark it gets.

I could go on and on about this great movie, but just a couple more points and I'll wrap it up. I had heard so many warnings about the violence going in that perhaps it desensitized me a bit, but I found it all inherent in creating the perilous world young Ofelia finds herself cast into. As Kam Williams put it very well in the Black Star News, this isn't one "for the squeamish or fans of fascism." It's a world so brutal that, in del Toro's vision, only monsters can save us.

And a quick word about the acting. Young Ms. Baquero and Sergi Lopez are both great, but the real treat here is getting to watch Maribel Verdu again. I fell in love with her as the temptress of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," and here she delivers an even better performance as the enabler of Ofelia's fantasies, the house servant who first shows her the labyrinth next door.

You can call del Toro's movie any number of high-minded things. It is in parts an essay on the brutality of war and an elegy for the end of childhood, but more importantly it's a movie that lives up to the label "fantasy" and exceeds it at every turn. It's just that good, so if you haven't seen it yet, do so immediately.

29 comments:

james higham said...

Sounds great and the next question is how to access it.

Reel Fanatic said...

It seems to play wider and wider each week, Mr. Higham ... It played in a few cities I didn't expect last week, then of course reached my little corner of the world this week .. If it continues to make more money, I just assume it will eventually play almost everywhere

Invisible Lizard said...

Well put. Best movie I've seen in quite a while.

(Minor spoiler alert)

The only tiny thing that bothered me, not a flaw but a choice that I might have done differently, was during that scene at the end where the Capitan approaches Ofelia from behind while she is talking to the faun, and they deliberately add a 2 second shot from his perspective showing that she's alone and not really talking to anybody. Isn't that almost a cliche for this type of movie, adding a last-reel reveal to prove what's real and what's imaginary? To employ such an obvious device seems un-del-Toro-ish, but it also jarred me out of the narrative because every other time Ofelia has been on-screen, we've seen the world through her eyes. This one shot, even for a few seconds, broke that pattern.

I only bring it up here to see if anyone else noticed the same thing. The film itself is a masterpiece, and if I have a minor criticism about a two-second shot, believe me, it's because I think the film can well-withstand any level of scrutiny.

Invisible Lizard said...

By the way, I've been waiting for your review. Glad to see it finally hit your neck of the woods.

Linda said...

So glad you were not disappointed. I saw this film weeks ago and am still thinking about it. On the violence, I think it's that he lingers on those scenes longer than the average American filmmaker. On that 2 second shot near the end w/ Ofelia and the Captain, I needed it. When there is so much going on in a film, sometimes I need to be bashed over the head to get it. I was grateful for that moment.

Reel Fanatic said...

I know what you mean, Lizard, and it did strike me as odd, but it didn't detract from the ending too much for me ... I think I was just too rapt by what I was seeing that I didn't really think about that until I had gotten back home

vasta said...

Keith! So glad you enjoyed it, it was clearly the best film I saw in 2006. And for a film in limited release, the box office numbers are quite impressive as well.

Chris said...

I feel like I'm in the "Twilight Zone" with this flick, because I was disappointed. I have not talked to one person or read one review saying anything negative about it. And Keith, you usually say, "Well, this film isn't for everyone" but I think this is the closest one has ever come to being that.

Discussing it with some people the other day, one remarked that he felt the movie was "literature," and that I might enjoy it on that kind of level. Really, the only conclusion I've come to is that I'll have to watch it again, and see if it grows on me at all.

I didn't hate the movie, I just didn't like it as much as everyone else does. Visuals were outstanding, but that usually doesn't sell a movie for me. This is the one film from 2006 that I feel like I'm in that old Arby's commercial where the guy is running around an abandoned city yelling, "Where is everybody? Where did everybody go?" until he finally runs into the guy eating a sandwich, "Arby's. Roast beef sale."

Reel Fanatic said...

You are definitely in the minority on this one, Chris, but it certainly doesn't make your opinion any less valid ... If and when you watch it again, I'd recommend paying close attention to the structure of Ofelia's fantasy, and how it allows her to cope with the world around her ... If you want to call it "literature," I can see that, but really it's just a fantastic story very well told

Divinity said...

Someone commented at dinner last night that the scarring the Capitan received emphasized a resemblance to the banquet monster for her. In that way, I thought the 2-second shot was completely appropriate in illustrating that Ofelia's world is not his and that he has no access to it because of what he is. It isn't a question of reality versus the imaginary for me. In fact, in some ways, I found the Capitan's world more unreal than that of the underworld kingdom and thought that that was the point.

Reel Fanatic said...

I hadn't thought of that, Divinity, but I'm really still digesting this terrific movie .. I think more and more remarkable things about it are going to occur to me as I continue to think about it all week rather than, say, thinking about my job

james said...

I thought it was o.k. I guess. I expected too much maybe. I wanted to see more fantasy elements to it rather then the war elements. It was visually stunning though still.

nido said...

I'm really gald you liked it. and your review about the movie was really impressing! I can't put a movie I watch, no matter how simple and short it is into words! great job! and a nice blog you have here:)

Reel Fanatic said...

I was a little surprised at the fantasy-to-war ratio also, James, but I was still thoroughly impressed with the care with which he constructed this hellish world our young heroine found herself in

Emma said...

Yay! I am so, so happy you liked this film so much, it's my favourite of 2006, and yeah, i adored every second. Loved it.

jeremy said...

Saw it twice the weekend it came out here. First time because the roomies, the bf and I wanted to see it. Second time beause the Sunday brunch/movie gang voted to see it. (I voted for Darkon.)
Anyway, I found myself more emotionally connected to the story the second time around--which is totally strange because the first time through, I liked it, but was really easy to remove myself from the whole parable inside a parable thing.
That being said, the second time through my mind did drift a bit into thoughts about Franco's rule and how even if the rebels won that singular fight, there would still be 31 years of fascism in front of them. How the sickening violence that is shown so unflinchingly is really only a fraction of the atrocities that were committed under Franco rule.
Hope--one of the major themes--also resonated more on the second viewing. Mercedes whose hope is tempered by harsh reality. And Ofelia whose childish hope leads to martyrdom.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth, however. The trajectory of the film is laid out from the very beginning, and for a labyrinth, it could have been more complex. Still, its one of the best films I've seen in a while.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see the argument for more depth, Jeremy, but for me it's best viewed as the story through the eyes of our young heroine, and by just focusing on her experience it made the movie hit that much harder for me .. The way she shaped her fantasy to give her the strength to do what she had to do was just phenomenal viewing for me

Mercurie said...

Well, Pan's Labyrinth is actually going to be showing in Columbia starting next week, so I'll actually have a chance to see it. I'm very glad for small miracles!

Reel Fanatic said...

It looks like this one will eventually play just about everywhere, Mercurie .. It has been an annoying slow rollout, but the flick has seemed to thrive just about everywhere it has hit, which should be a surprise to no one (except, of course, movie marketers)

Marina said...

I really enjoyed this and I was also really impressed by Maribel's performance.

Chris said...

I still have to wait three more weeks until the movie gets to be released here in Switzerland. Ever since I layed my eyes on the first pictures back in October, this must be the most anticipated movie... and your review made me even more curious! At least the wait will soon be over! :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought my little town was the last place in the world to be getting this fantastic movie, chris, but as I've learned from these comments, I was definitely wrong ... I'm certain you will enjoy it when it finally arrives

Michelle said...

You've got an awesome informative blog here. I'm gonna have to come back and spend a little more time over here. Are you a screenwriter by any chance? :-)

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on my Top 100 Black Films post. God Bless Netflix, huh?

Reel Fanatic said...

Netflix is indeed a Godsend, Michelle ... I'm flattered that you would even ask, Michelle, but no, I'm just a movie buff who spends far too much time obsessing about them

Chris said...

Huzzah! Glad you finally got to catch it, and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did!

And Mirabel Verdu...hotcha! She was wonderful in this!

Fated said...

Hands down best movie of the year. No question.

Mob said...

I fell in love with her as the temptress of "Y Tu Mama Tambien"...

That's why she looked so damned familiar! That was driving me crazy through most of the film...

Great movie, I can't wait for March or May or whenever I read they are supposed to be releasing it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I was glad that I knew that was her going in, mob, or it would have distracted me from this great movie ... I'm sure she's been in a lot of great Spanish movies that I've never seen

R said...

I have to see this.