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.