Saturday, February 10, 2007
After work yesterday I finally made it to the theater to see Pan's Labyrinth. I don't know what I expected; I had heard how great it was, what a fairy tale it was and I knew it was Guillermo del Toro, and Doug Jones in some fantastic make-up, so I anticipated something... magical. And it was. Beyond my meager expectations. It was also stunningly and surprisingly realistic; brutally so. I have never seen a fantasy film allow so much reality to intrude on it. Most films that follow the Alice In Wonderland/Wizard of Oz formula of transporting the heroine to a fantastic alternate world never go back to Kansas until the very end, if at all; in this film, the heroine (Ofelia) routinely crosses the border, back and forth as she performs a series of three tasks for a faun that inhabits an ancient labyrinth, a gateway to a magical kingdom expecting the return of a long lost daughter - Ofelia.
In the real world, it's Spain, 1944. The fascists are trying to root out the rebel fighters and Ofelia is going to the front line with her pregnant mother, to be with the father of her child, a captian named Vidal. One of the first things he does is beat a man to death with the business end of a bottle. Right away the stark reality of war, of life, competes with the lyrical majesty of Ofelia's fairy tale - and the two are forced to occupy the same space throught the film. A blue rose offering immortality grows on a remote mountain top; the camera pans down to find a mantis like creature that then flies to the window of Ofelia's bedroom. There are many shots like these, many wipes using trees as the boundary between characters and worlds. Boundary seems like an important theme in this film; Ofelia lives in her books and isn't able to divide fantasy from reality. Reality does more than intrude on fantasy, it invades it, destroys it, but she refuses to let it die. In the bleak, absolutely devastating conclusion, her inability - her determination -restores the structure of the girl down the rabbit hole story. The film begins with the story of the lost daughter of the underworld, and a brief tour of it; at the end, she returns home, red slippers and all. This is one of the best films of the year, and one of the great fantasies. It's gorgeous. Go see it.