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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Pan's Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro 2006

Simply Amazing

Very rarely – “once upon a time”, even – a film comes along that so perfectly engages a viewer’s sensibilities, curiosity, expectations, fears, and hopes that it is able to transcend definition. I’m talking about the kind of film that doesn’t seem appropriate to categorize at all because it cheapens its complexity. The kind of movie that is so dexterous that it can straddle two, even three genres without seeming confused or self-indulgent. The kind of film that can, through the sheer force of its storytelling, smash your heart into smithereens.

Equal parts war film, fantasy epic, horror movie, and gut-wrenching historical drama, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is the very definition of a film that is greater than the sum of its parts. To classify it as a fantasy film, a horror movie, or war film alone would be ignoring a good part of its story and its complexity. And yet a genre doesn’t exist that’s broad enough to hold it, or to aptly express just how multifaceted and complicated it actually is. This isn’t simply several stories in different genres patched together to make a movie – this is a film about how different people see the world in different ways, and about the ways in which the mind rearranges reality in order to make it more logical. Ultimately, Labyrinth is a story of how war can destroy the spirit, and drive an innocent soul literally into another plane. And while that’s a pretty hard story to listen to, it’s one that deserves telling.

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a young girl whose mother Carmen (Adriana Gil) has remarried following the death of her father. The year is 1944 and the place is northern Spain, in the years immediately following Franco’s victory. Carmen’s new husband, Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez), is a military leader on the frontier who is responsible for shaking the last of the rebels out of the wilderness. Carmen, a far simpler woman than her new husband, is pregnant with their child and not well, and she and Ofelia are expected to stay quietly in the Capitan’s house as they wait for her to give birth.

Of course, Ofelia is a young girl with an imagination and a strong chin, and she’s not about to sit around in a drafty house when there’s a new world to explore – particularly when she doesn’t care for her new father in the least. On the way to their new home, Ofelia befriends a large flying insect that seems to follow them to the farmhouse, and one night after their arrival she follows the insect into the overgrown stone and hedge labyrinth behind the house. Inside she meets a Faun (satyr), rather horrifically embodied by Hellboy’s Doug Jones, who tells her that she is in fact a moon princess who needs to complete 3 tasks before the full moon in order to reclaim her throne. Um … okay…

Ofelia is given a book that will reveal to her the tasks whenever she is alone. Considering that her new father is a control freak and her mother needs her at her side, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, and as Ofelia is pulled further and further into the fantasy realm (complete with giant toads that live under trees, horrifying child-eating pale men with eyes in the palms of their hands, magical chalk, manroot babies, and more), her connection with her mother and new father is increasingly strained.

As Ofelia strays from reality, back at the fort things are becoming more and more dire. Ofelia’s mother is not carrying the pregnancy well, and it becomes clear that Capitan Vidal is far more concerned with her unborn child (and his heir) than he is with her. There is also mutiny afoot: Ofelia’s only real friend, Mercedes (the marvelous Maribel Verdu), is the head of the Capitan’s household but also has ties with the rebels who hide in the forest and occasionally attack the Capitan’s men. With the help of Dr. Ferreiro (Alex Angulo), Mercedes tries to get food and medicine to the rebels whenever she can, at constant risk of raising the suspicions of the increasingly unhinged and sadistic Capitan.

In a climax that can only be described as exhausting, Mercedes’ deception, the Capitan’s rampant, revenge-fueled ego, and Ofelia’s desperate attempts to escape her war-torn world collide in a bloody, horrific resolution. Those expecting a traditional fairy tale in Pan’s Labyrinth should be warned: this is a film about war, about innocence, and about the ramifications of man’s rampant aggression. It’s profoundly, deeply moving, and may be more than a lot of people bargained for if they’ve just seen a neat poster here and there and think it’s all goblins and mazes. Sure, those elements are there, but they’re weaved seamlessly into a terribly real tale of war and loss. The two storylines are irrevocably intertwined and the juxtaposition of Ofelia’s world, which is based on simple rules and an internal (if fantastical) order, and Mercedes’ world, which operates under a madman’s logic, is incredibly effective. I haven’t been this engrossed in a story – particularly a fantasy story – in years, not to mention moved by its message.

I’m sure all this bloated ranting and lack of detail is getting old, so I’ll wrap it up. The thing is, this movie is something incredibly special, and del Toro is to be given the highest praise for bringing it to us. And yet the impact of the film can only be diminished by my telling its secrets, so I won’t. Let me just say that this movie is a visceral, haunting, violent, stunning, heartbreaking, beautiful, disturbing, and achingly humane piece of work, the likes of which is almost impossible to come by. I recommend it without reservation, and give it my vote for best film of the year.

Rating (out of 5):