Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Poster for Pan's Labyrinth; photo by Val Phoenixdir Guillermo del Toro

Having missed this much-talked about film on general release, I was happy to catch it at my local rep arthouse.

And wow. It is an impressive spectacle of sight and sound, its grey, black and brown production design depicting the war-torn rural Spain of the 1940s as well as the fantasy world of a young girl's imagination.

Ofelia (a wide-eyed Ivana Baquero) is the unwilling accomplice of her mother Carmen's ill-advised marriage to the brutal fascist Captain Vidal. Wandering off into her imagination, Ofelia encounters a faun, which sets her three tasks to regain her rightful position of princess of an underground kingdom. Ofelia's struggles with these tasks take her into the grimy confines of a tree root and into a banquet hosted by a grotesque creature.

But no less scary is the martinet Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), with his pleasure in instruments of torture and utter lack of regard for Carmen or Ofelia.

Ofelia's only allies are her fairy friends and Vidal's servant Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who comes more to the fore as the film progresses, risking her life to help the rebels in the woods. She is the film's moral compass, able to see beyond fantasies and cold realities to how she wishes life would be.

Ofelia's fantasy world is an understandable response to her circumstances but her actions have deadly consequences and her obedience to the faun proves as dangerous as her rebellion against Vidal. Both of them are dangerous authority figures.

Perhaps this is del Toro's message: beware false idols.

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