Pan's Labyrinth

Year 2006

Ariadna Gil as  Carmen Vidal
Ivana Baquero   as Ofelia
Sergi López as Captain Vidal
Maribel Verdú as Mercedes
Doug Jones as Pan / Pale Man   
Director - Guillermo del Toro   
Screenwriters - Guillermo del Toro
    Carmen Soriano

This movie received a lot of attention. It garnered three Academy Award wins for art and cinematography. Around the world, it was nominated for every Spanish speaking country's award (it's a Spanish language film with subtitles). In the U.S. it was nominated for, and won, practically every award I've never heard of.

For example, it won "Online Film Critics Society Award" for best foreign film. Tell me you've heard of the "OFCS". Go ahead. I dare you.

So, to quote Bugs Bunny, "What's all the hubbud...Bub?"

Well, in the movie the time is the late 1930s in Spain and the Spanish Civil War is in full swing. I don't mean to make light of this as this; like all civil wars, was bloody. One of the main characters in the movie, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), is a stereotypical amoral bastard.

I mean, there's no way to like the guy. He's a 1930's version of Torquemada. Yet he's managed to marry Ofelia's (Ivana Baquero) mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil). She, seemingly, had no choice. The marraige was her way of preparing for the future. I guess, considering the times, marrying a sadist like Captain Vidal was better than the alternative. And based upon Hemingway's and Dali's portrayals, Carmen's decision isn't as outrageous as one might suppose.

You might think that with a young girl as the lead and a fantasy world as a background this might be a kid's movie. Well, it isn't. It's not a deep movie but it's a brutal one. There's a lot of blood in this one.

The Nationalists of Captain Vidal are fighting the Loyalists. The Nationalists' answer to everything appears to be torture and execution. The Loyalists can't win, but that doesn't stop them from fighting.

About half of the movie depicts the conflict as taking place in a cold, merciless atmosphere where people are sliced, tortured, and shot. If you don't know, it's not a spoiler to say that the Nationalists win out. Based on the movie, I'm not sure how this happened. I mean, killing all of your followers as a form of punishment does not seem to be a way to stop the opposing side from swelling with defectors. Maybe this is the way it happened, but it's so over the top that it rings false.

Into this world comes Ofelia, a pre-teen dreamer and believer of fairy tales. Things get so bad for her, that she disappears periodically into a land of fantasy. Or is fantasy?

The title of the movie comes from a maze that exists in one corner of the Captain's estate. It is in this maze that Ofelia meets Pan. Is Pan real or part of Ofelia's imagination? Either way, her land of fantasy is not a pleasant place and Ofelia appears to be substituting one form of horror for another.

In this surreal world, Ofelia is given three tasks by Pan. If she completes them, then she becomes (actually, she returns to being) a princess in an other dimensional kingdom. If not, she stays with her cruel step father.

The strength of the movie is in its artistry. Pan's make-up and portrayal is unique. The use of color and lighting in all scenes is spectacular. The imagination of the fantasy land does nothing but credit to those who envisioned it.

But where the movie fails is in the inability to really keep the viewer immersed in the movie. The acting is good, but the scenes sometimes aren't.

As an example of things that prevented me from being swept along by the movie, there is the scrambled layout of the Captain's estate. There's at least one barn, maybe even four. There's at least one main house, but maybe there are two. The location of the Captain's room is never even hinted at. And where are the stones that the housekeeper, Mercedes, keeps removing?

That's a glitch because of the attempt to make the "real world" completely concrete in order to use it as a foil for the fantasy world. Lack of grounding meant that there wasn't much of jump between worlds.

In some scene's there's an "insect". But it's not an insect. It has at least five body parts, whereas insects have three. It's also an ugly creature, but Ofelia takes to it immediately. A little girl adopting a foot long preying mantis? Uh. Nope. I can't see it.

The fantasy world offers its own share of horrors. People don't die there, but creatures do, and quite horrifically I might add.

Usually, Pan's tasks for Ofelia have something to do with eating. I don't know how large or skinny the director is, but there's an excessive amount of focus centering on what goes into mouths. There are definitely David Cronenberg influences in this movie.

The movie does keep you watching, if only to see what comes next. In the end, the Captain's finale is fitting. I guess, so is Ofelia's.

My biggest gripe with the movie? It centers around religion but religion is not addressed. If you're an athiest and don't believe in an afterlife, then maybe the movie's fine. But, if you do believe in heaven like most of the people in Spain did at the time of the Civil War, then there are some issues centered around death and resurrection that kept nagging at me. I've got to leave it at that because I don't want to single out which death out of dozens is the one I'm referring to, but suffice it to say that the lack of religious symbolism caused this movie to lose points with me.

I would recommend watching it. It's dark and brooding and orginal. It's also over the top and people don't always stay in character. The scenes are imaginative, but the story tries to deal with broad, deep concepts and fails to address most of them to the point of satisfaction. One example of this is the Civil War itself. It's resolution is not given in the movie and the fates of the freedom fighters are left hanging. End result - no point is made.

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