Tuesday, November 21, 2006

PAN'S LABYRINTH/EL LABARINTO DEL FAUNO - Best film of 2006?

Innocence Has A Power Evil Cannot ImagineSometimes the hardest reviews to write are for the movies which you just know are a yard faster than anything else you've seen. For me, PAN'S LABYRINTH is the most memorable, inventive, emotionally and visually scarring movie I have seen in 2006. The (in)famous UK reviewer, Mark Kermode, stood up before the screening and called the movie "the CITIZEN KANE of fantasy cinema". This made me, if anything, more sceptical about the film. Not because I don't value his opinion but because I hate someone laying this amount of hype on the shoulders of a movie just as I'm about to see it. How on earth could the movie possibly live up to such a description?

Short answer: it does. And then some. The problem is that I can describe how amazing the production design is; how elegant the editing; how atmospheric the photography; but I cannot make you feel the sense of complete immersion in a world that is threatening and brutal and evil. And be very clear, this is no kids movie. It inflicts much cruelty on its audience - forcing you to flinch at scenes of torture, body-horror and death. The cruelty steps beyond the immediate violence, though - it manifests itself in what I interpreted to be an incredibly nihilistic central message: the world is barbarous and cruel and evil acts may be punished but the innocent will also die. Worse still, there is no real refuge in childhood stories of magic and fairies. Barbarous cruelty also dominates the fantasy world and its rules are arbitrary and demanding. Maybe I am taking this too far: there is a glimmer of hope at the end. We are, after all, moral agents: we are able to do the right thing. But to one interpretation, there is no tangible benefit to doing so.

But back to the nuts and bolts. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the new film by director Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE). It is set in Spain just after the civil war has ended, but as World War Two is still raging. A young girl who loves fairy-tales is travelling into the countryside with her heavily pregnant mother. Her stepfather is a vain, misogynistic, sadistic Fascist army officer who sees her mother as a vehicle to deliver the son he desires. The step-daughter is tempted by a faun into thinking that if she can just carry out three dangerous tests in a fantasy world she will be acknowledged as an immortal fairy princess and be spirited away to live with her dead father.

Finally, as with all truly magical cinematic experiences, it's really hard for me to explain why this movie affected me so much. I can only urge you to try and catch it at the cinema even if you wouldn't normally go for fantasy cinema. It is rare to find a movie that is so engrossing, so horrifying and yet so beautifully rendered.

PAN'S LABYRINTH played Cannes and London's Frightfest, 2006. It is currently on release in Spain, Mexico, France and Serbia. It opens in Belgium, Italy and the UK this weekend and in Australia, Russia and Singapore next weekend. The film opens in Canada and the US on December 29th. It opens in Norway in January, Germany in February, Japan in April and Turkey in May.

14 comments:

  1. Great review .. I just cannot wait to see this one .. I'm gonna be in New York City this weekend, but it looks like it might not even be playing there yet by then ...

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  2. Oh man, I can't wait for this one now. I love Del Toro's films, especially his spanish language, horro ones like Cronos and Devil's Backbone. God knows when this is coming out in Oz. Lucky Number Slevin has just come out and the Descent is out next week.

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  3. @Ali D. Should be out in Oz a week on Friday. I also love Cronos and TDB and especially Hellboy. You'll freak when you find out that Nik missed the chance to see this and the interview with G del Toro afterwards. He was home playing 3D ping pong in his pyjamas at 6:30pm!

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  4. Fool! Wish I'd seen the interview, that'd be really interesting. Hellboy is great; I'm a big fan of the comic book and the film was just loads of fun.

    I think the independent cinema in Canberra is showing Pan's Labyrinth next week as a special preview. Might see if I can go along to that.

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  5. def gonna catch this one

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  6. quote:"it's really hard for me to explain why this movie affected me so much."

    exactly my feelings right now. This is truly the Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema. Instant favorite.

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  7. Wow, just got back from seeing the film this evening. In a word, brilliant. I was just completely caught up in the whole story and I'm glad that because it was a "fairy tale" and the central character was a child, it was still really enjoyable for me.

    The character of the Captain, was amazing. Right from the get-go, he was menacing and the threat of danger from him was always there.

    Can't wait for this one to come out on DVD.

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  8. Hi Ali, I'm really glad you liked it! I think this is a movie that survives the hype and I can't wait to see it again and pour over the detail of it.

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  9. This movie rendered me speechless. I love how Ofelia was being torn between the malicious reality of living with her new stepfather surrounded by war and chaos, and also the intriguing and dangerous underworld. Absoluitley AMAZING!

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  10. I agree, not a children's movie, but very beneficial, I think, if you are hoping to illicit critical thinking/dialogue with your adolescents. This is the best movie our family has seen in a while. Excellent review, you mirrored our thoughts.

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  11. To anonymous 1: I'm so pleased you enjoyed it!

    To anonymous 2: I had never thought of it as a family movie, but you raise an interesting point. If you're kids are old enough to handle the brutality, the fantasy "wrapper" could be a way into a dialogue about the moral and social issues. Just shows what a multi-faceted and brilliant film this is.

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  12. Nice review .. Indeed this movie is great, it's effect has been lasting with me for over 6 weeks now .. it's an adult fantasy if such expression exists

    But I was depressed that you didn't comment at all about the music .. the theme was overwhelming, I have to say that the theme tune is still hanging to my mind till now . It's awesome, may be the best soundtrack ever imo..

    THIS LULLABY MADE ME LOVE THE MOVIE EVEN MORE

    thanks again for the review, I'll be following your reviews

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  13. this movie is the best i have ever seen.it made me cry many times for its beauty.everyone should see and own it.M M Mh MH mhh... mh mhh mhhh... mhh mh m mhhh..m.mhhh.... mh mhhh mh m mhhh... mh mhhh mhhh... mh mh m mh mhhh... mh mh m mh mhhh... mhh mh mhh m mh mh mhhhh......

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