Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pan’s Labyrinth / El Laberinto del Fauno

Having “wintered” in London for most of last week, I caught Pan’s Labyrinth at the Curzon Soho on Thursday night.

Sitting in the darkened cinema, one of the trailers was for the digitally remastered Wizard of Oz that is being released over Christmas. And I wondered if Pan’s Labyrinth would turn out to be of the same calibre as the 1939 classic?

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is difficult to categorise. It’s a dark gothic fairy tale (aided by small characters moving across tall sets). Adult fantasy. Minor tinges of horror too?

Set in 1944 in Franco’s post-war Spain, the plot centres around a military camp commanded by little Ofelia’s new step-father. Remarried, her mother is heavily pregnant and has been summoned to be near to her husband, Captain Vidal, who insists that his son be born close by.

Maybe it’s an unwritten rule, but just as last Christmas’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe brought us Mr Tumnus, this film brings us a new faun for 2006. Inhabiting a labyrinth behind the main house, Pan (a Greek mythology god, part of the English film title, but never actually named during the film) challenges Ofelia to perform three tasks before the moon is full in order to prove she is the princess of their kingdom. (A kind of gothic six impossible tasks before breakfast.)
Just like all the other films I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, there is lots of blood and a good few deaths. Mercedes, played excellently by Maribel Verdú, is the Captain’s trusted housekeeper. But she is also the camp’s informer for the resistance, and sister to one of its members. The local doctor is caught up too—jeopardising his level of care for Ofelia’s mother and unborn son.

Everyone is searching. While Ofelia enters her fantasy world and gets muddy performing the tasks and searching for monsters, the other threads of the story unfold. Her mother is not well, and is now bed bound, searching for comfort and relief, offering Ofelia little protection from the harsh nature of her stepfather. He in turn is searching for the local Republican rebels who are living in the hills and continuing to threaten his military supremacy. And Mercedes is searching for her brother, worried that he has been captured.

As well as painting a dark on-screen canvas, Javier Navarrete’s score and the accompanying sound effects create a creepy, rumbling, gusty landscape, providing goose bumps and an air of uncertainly. (And it’s main lullaby theme is considerably more hummable than the Casino Royale Bond theme!)

Watch out for the contrasts between the evil reality of the Captain’s world, and the moral uprightness of the Ofelia’s fantasy land. And the parallels of keys being found or used in both sides. Like a true fairly tale, the spilt blood of an innocent can ultimately free someone and reveal their true identity.

Part of the magic of films like the Wizard of Oz and Pan’s Labyrinth is the feeling of not knowing how much of the fantasy to believe. Is the faun for real. Is Ofelia living in the world of her precious storybooks? I’ll leave you to watch the film and decide.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece and deserves the plaudits that reviewers have heaped on it.

Catch it starting tonight at the QFT in Belfast (or any other cinemas that picks up its distribution) before you miss one of the best films of 2006.

14 comments:

John Self said...

Damn, I hope I can persuade my better half to see this tonight... As for other cinemas picking it up - a Mexican subtitled film about post-war Spain? Fat chance.

Alan in Belfast said...

Did you get to see it last night?

John Self said...

No, we were lethargic and opted for Nigella's Christmas Kitchen/Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure and The Secret Millionaire. For shame! Then to cheese me off, having lunch with a colleague today, he said "I saw this great film at the QFT last night..." and went on to pronounce it a masterpiece. I could catch the early show tonight on my own but will more likely await the DVD.

I did email the QFT asking if it would be getting a few more showings on account of the closed doors on Sunday night. No reply yet.

John Self said...

DVD out in three months...

John Self said...

Consider my words eaten: Storm Cinema at the Odyssey have picked up Pan's Labyrinth...

Alan in Belfast said...

Phew! They hadn't when I checked earlier in the week. Click for the cinema times at the Belfast Odyssey.

John Self said...

And here's the QFT's explanation for the closure on Sunday.

"I am very sorry that you were so, rightly, disappointed by the failure of QFT to operate, on Sunday night.

This is the first time in the history of the QFT that a closure has been forced on us. The unavailability of staff, at the last moment, due to illness, reduced staffing levels below those required within our licensing rules for Health and Safety reasons.

That the closure was therefore necessary on the grounds of ‘due care’, was unavoidable.

Pans Labyrinth will probably return, but it is not in our schedule for the next month or so, we will update the website where we can however."

Alan in Belfast said...

Maybe they'll give you a free hot chocolate next time you go to the QFT as a goodwill gesture!

John Self said...

Finally!

Alan in Belfast said...

Glad to hear that your SO survived and even enjoyed it too.

John Self said...

Yes, she actually ended up rating it higher than I did (five stars over four, in our geekish notional scale). Next stop, The Page Turner...

Alan in Belfast said...

There's violence there too ... but it's more understated, though still menacing and sinister. Should be less scary for SOs.

Thank goodness these films are getting shown in Belfast.

John Self said...

Well my SO is Gourmet Burger Banking it tonight with her girlfriends, so I'll be rushing from the gym to the QFT solo for this one. I think the last film I saw on my own was Schindler's List back on get-into-any-film-for-a-pound-day (whatever happened to that?) in 1993. Looking forward to it though.

John Self said...

Pan's Labyrinth has another week at the Storm cinema in the Odyssey. There were 20 or 30 people there when we went to see it on Monday evening, which I suppose isn't bad for a foreign language film on probably the worst night of the week for cinema takings...