Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Film Review: Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

I just got home from seeing Pan's Labyrinth, which has garnered an impressive six Oscar nominations*, all of which are well deserved, and I won't be surprised if it picks up a couple (likely Makeup, and maybe Art Direction).

Pan's Labyrinth is the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl living in post-Civil War Spain in 1944. Ofelia moves to a countryside mill with her pregnant mother who recently married a fascist devotee, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Ofelia is lead by a fairy-like creature into a labyrinth where she meets the faun, who believes her to be Princess Moanna, the long-lost daughter of the king of the underworld, and explains she must complete three tasks to ensure that she is the princess.

The Faun and Ofelia
The Faun and Ofelia

While Ofelia goes about performing these tasks in what appears to be a fantasy world, the Republicans hiding in the woods surrounding the mill clash with the Captain and his soldiers, and Ofelia's mother experiences a severe complications in her pregnancy.

It remains ambiguous whether the alternate world is real or a figment of Ofelia's imagination (really, the whole thing is a fairy tale based on the narration). The "fantasy" world that Ofelia enters serves as an allegory for the "real" world of fascist Spain and the situation Ofelia finds herself in. I haven't been in an English class in months, so I feel a little rusty on my interpretive skills, but I managed to draw a few parallels, some of which are more obvious than others. (I'd be curious to know what others think.)

The first task Ofelia is assigned is to retrieve a key from the stomach of a toad who lives under a tree from which he is sucking the life. I'm pretty sure the toad is Francisco Franco and the tree is Spain. The film draws attention to the reduction of food rations being given to citizens under Franco's government. The toad eats all the bugs in the tree, and the tree is dying.

The Pale Man (that creepy thing with his eyeballs in the palms of his hands that is in all the publicity) represents the Captain. He sits at the head of a table with a large feast akin to the dinner party hosted by the patriarchal Captain. The Pale Man's eyes are in the palms of his hands, which causes him to be terrifying but disoriented and unable to see clearly what is happening. Similarly, the Captain doesn't realize for some time that there are Republican sympathizers in his house.

The faun and Mercedes guide and protect Ofelia when her mother isn't able. Both disappear for a short time, but eventually return for Ofelia.

The film is much more violent than I anticipated, but less creepy. Most of the violence is inflicted by the Captain, further emphasizing the brutality of fascism. Of course, it not totally lacking in creepiness. The alternate reality is grotesque, but not in such a way that one feels compelled to avert one's eyes -- that's more likely to happen in the real world.

If you're in Halifax, Pan's Labyrinth is still going to be playing in Park Lane and Bayer's Lake next week. I suggest you see it.

*Art Direction, Cinematography, Foreign Language Film, Makeup, Original Score, Original Screenplay

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