Saturday, February 17, 2007

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

So, I saw this over a week ago now, but things were just too busy for me to review it right away. Plus, this is a film that definitely needs some digesting time and distance before I could formalize my ideas about it.

I'll start by saying that this is NOT a children's movie! We ran into a friend and his mom at the theatre who were seeing the movie because someone told them it was like a Narnia movie. Well, the comparison there is only true in the strictest thematic academic way possible. In terms of mood, it definitely is not like Narnia and any dark and scary elements that Narnia may have had seem like nothing compared to Pan's Labyrinth.

The movie is a foreign film made my a director whom I've heard is known for his work in the horror genre. I wouldn't call this film a horror movie, but I can definitely see his background coming through the movie. The suspenseful moments and dark feel of it are definitely reminiscent of a horror film. But, the subject and mood are different.

The film is set in Spain during WWII. The main character is a little girl who's widowed mother has remarried a man in the Spanish army. His job is to route out the rebel forces that are hiding in the country side. He is brutally efficient at his job and passionately believes in fascist politics of the time. He is cruel and only really concerned with his heir and unborn son. He isn't portrayed as a fanatical archetype though. He is given a realistic psyche which makes his character even more disturbing in its cruelty.

The fantasy elements of the movie are present from the beginning but so are the dark elements. We meet a fairy right away, but the way it is presented is in a cloak of forboding. The sound effects and cinematography are brilliantly done to achieve this mix of fancy and frightfulness.

There are interesting parallels between the girl and her step-father. Each are in difficult positions navigating through all the grey areas between what is good and what is evil; following orders or following what is right. Building toward the climax they do an excellent job of juxtaposing the cruelty of war and loss that the girl faces in the real world and her descent into the fairy-tale world. The fairy-tale world may be different from her own, but it is not all happiness and sunshine. There is the promise of happiness but first she must face several trials. I won't say anything about how the events all play out because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I'll just say that you can't even sit easy at the end because you're not sure what to make of it. It could be interpreted either way really.

It's a film that I hesitate to say is a "good" movie. It's one that I'm glad that I've seen it, but I probably won't watch it again. (In fact, my 'watching' of it is questionable in the first place since I spent sections with eyes closed and even plugged my ears a few times! Since it was a foreign film I'm sure I missed a bit of dialogue, but the dialogue wasn't really the important parts of those moments.) I like that the movie doesn't clearly take a side and it isn't all neat and resolved at the end. It makes you think and I like to think about the films I see. I loved the effects, artwork, lighting, and sound effects of the movie. If I could watch it again just for these elements I would, but the plot is a bit too overwhelming for me to handle. The story I can talk about in a detached way, but again, couldn't really sit through watching it again.

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