Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth

Writer & Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro

I can’t give a rating to this film because I missed the first 5-8 minutes of the film. Now it is completely my fault that I missed the start because I had underestimated how busy the theatre would be on a Sunday night. Now, on Friday Jan 19 three big movies finally opened in my city -- Pan’s Labyrinth,The Last King of Scotland and Letters from Iwo Juma. Only one theatre in the city (the local art house theatre) had both films playing at the same time for the early evening show -- Pan’s Labyrinth played at 7 pm and The Last King of Scotland played at 7:10 pm. Other than during the film festival, this art house theatre is hardly ever full on a sunday night so I casually walked in few minutes before 7 pm. But was I surprised!! The line-up was almost out the door with most people waiting to buy tickets for Last King…. I eventually got in the theatre around 7:10 pm regretting my stupidity to leave it this late. Considering so many people were waiting to see these two films, why on earth did these films not open earlier in the city? Why do North American multiplexes insist on showing brain dead films and are not willing to take a risk by opening more foreign films? Why the hell do we have to wait for the best films to only open during the Sept – Dec time frame? The awards dominate everything and that is annoying. But then again, what I am saying means nothing. Even if theatres showed foreign films, people would only choose certain kind. Sure Spanish, French, Italian and the odd action-Chinese film sometimes do well in multiplexes but I can bet certain other language films won’t have a great turnout unless they have a major award buzz around them. Anyone I am rambling on & complaining about lack of good movies being released in my city’s theatres on time. I should be lucky that atleast these films have opened in my city because not every city around North America has that luxury. Anyway, on to the film…

The film can be dividend in two components:
-- Spanish civil war in WWII
-- a magical fable taking place in a forest’s Labyrinth

The two components are linked by a little girl (Ofelia, brilliantly played by Ivana Baquero) who drifts between both worlds. How does one explain both worlds? The obvious explanation is the fable represents escapism for the little girl. In that sense, this film could be taken as a cinematic form of "magic realism", the term first used to label Latin Literature (but now has spread to other literature satisfying the criteria). Ofelia is show to collect fairy tale books and her innocence combined with her love for tales of princesses and make-believe could account for such an explanation. Also, her step father (Captain Vidal played wickedly by Sergi López) happens to be a cruel tyrant who needs no excuse to ruthlessly kill people. Vidal believes in upholding Franco’s leadership and is sent to the forest to crush the rebellion. So in order to escape the real life demon in her world, Ofelia rather escape to the magical world where a giant toad, a faun and a devilish creature are nothing to be feared off. Also, Ofelia has few friendly fairies to help her along in both the magical and real world -- in the real world, Ofelia sees her mother, Carmen and the house assistant Mercedes as her guardian angels.

I could not help think of Del Toro’s brilliant The Devil’s backbone while watching this as that film also combined make-believe, innocent children and the Spanish civil war. The fight between the army and rebels in Pan’s Labyrinth reminded me of the 2006 award-winning Mexican film El Violin -- parallels are found in how Mercedes and the doctor go to great length to help the rebels under Vidal’s nose. However, I am divided in my final verdict of Del Toro’s latest film. I loved the magical world and every scene there is deliciously shot. But Captain Vidal’s world is nothing new – a few shocking torture scenes that have been shown in more gory details in other films before (a little from Irréversible, a few other from Saw) and the army vs rebel conflict has been covered thoroughly in other Latin films as well. But can missing the first few minutes have made such a difference to my opinion? Can getting to the theatre late have changed my attitude? I guess I won’t know the full answer till I see the start again when this movie is released on DVD. In the meantime, I am more inclined to agree with Peter Bradshaw’s assessment rather than with the majority of critics on Metacritic who have given this movie full marks. Is this movie worthy of such a high rating? I don’t think so. But it is worth seeing though. Overall, I am really disappointed that movies like this and Babel have been given so much importance as both films are pretty straight-forward. Maybe I am not seeing all the Christian symbolism, references to Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland and Orpheus in Pan’s Labyrinth? But even if I spend a few hours deciphering every scene in the film, I don’t think I would change my opinion of this film. Unless the first few minutes started out as a fable…..

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