PAN’S LABYRINTH

PAN’S LABYRINTH

just saw the most fucking unbelievably good movie. i mean, out of my mind insanely good. i was completely devastated at film’s end…a sobbing, wretched heap.

i’ve been watching these hot-on-fire mexican filmmakers for a while now: guillermo del toro, whose film this is, alfonso cuaron, and alejandro gonzalez inarritu.

THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE scared the hell out of me. i think with PAN’S LABYRINTH, del toro has captured lightning in a bottle. LABYRINTH works on every conceivable level: as fairy tale, as realist drama of fascist spain, as religious allegory, as ancient greek and roman myth (combining persephone and orpheus). he blends genuine terror at the sadistic assault on the body required by fascism with the enthralling, mystical, ethereal quality of a wholly imagined world. as an unapolgetic atheist, i actually found the ending a necessary salve to the very catholic pain the film sets out to create. and that’s a lot for me to say.

so many things to admire about this film:

  • its lush visuality, with a completely original universe suggestive of ahistorical, fantastical time
  • the lovely way the worlds of fascist spain and the little girl’s mysterious faun-and-fairy worlds converge over the body of her baby brother–not only is every event inevitable in the best way, but the parallel plots do the impossible and start bending toward one another
  • everything ofelia, the protagonist, does in the fantasy world has a corollary effect in the real world that can be explained using mundane means. this is a mighty difficult effect to achieve.
  • what a brilliant pair of heroines del toro has written. as HB pointed out to me after the movie, we’d never see hollywood make this film. 1) endanger or otherwise show children harmed? never. (think of the brutal punishment of children and their misfired guns in inarritu’s BABEL.) but the violence in LABYRINTH, far from being gratuitous, underscores how women experience war and how they can harness that apparent insignificance to explosive insuragent ends. not to mention the special terror of rape that underwrites LABYRINTH, from the unholy creation of ofelia’s little brother to the special torture that captain vidal holds in reserve for mercedes. 2) we’d also never see this film made in hollywood because the subtlety of the female heroines–and the subtlety of their insurgency–doesn’t register on the radar of gun-loving, he-man writers, directors, and producers. (here i’m thinking of the phallic heroines of the ’90s in ALIENS, TERMINATOR, etc.) and the last reason? 3) there’s something wonderfully and specifically third-world about how these women are fierce anti-fascist warriors in a liberatory way, which again takes on an ugly, oppressive cast if that story originates from the heart of the empire.
  • i loved the many round orifices in the film. birth and rebirth are central visual metaphors and we are always tipping, crawling, tumbling in/out of dark yawing holes with our protagonist.
  • finally, i have a deep fascination for the 1930s/1940s era and the rise of fascism. in many ways, i see PAN’S LABYRINTH as a brilliant corollary to one of the most underrated but amazing films to come out of asia, THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO. in both, the genres of fantasy-horror, tinged with sadism, express what is otherwise unspeakable–the extermination of republicans or their supporters, or the activities of the japanese imperial army. in both films, fascism’s body count is too appalling to look at directly, but the feeling of dread and horror nevertheless pervade a society. perhaps the only way to imagine the unthinkable and the unspeakable is through what del toro has called “anarchic fantasy” (in an interview available on podcast from the PAN’S LABYRINTH website). in MYSTERY OF RAMPO, i distinctly remember a scene in which the detective trying to locate the murderer of a beautiful widow stops in the street where japanese imperial army soldiers stomp by. the image struck me with force because i’d always wondered when and how, if ever, contemporary japanese artists would ever address that ugly moment of their history, and there it was, however briefly onscreen.
  • 2 thoughts on “PAN’S LABYRINTH

    1. Stafford on

      Now here is one more movie that I will wish that I didn’t have kids so that i could see. I just don’t get to movies, but your commentary has given me the hots for it. Spent last night in Chinatown with the kids: “Gung Hay Fat Choy.”
      http://westernqueensland.wordpress.com/
      Made some art, and Lennox’s Hang Man Sentences were “I Love You” and “I Love Mom.”

    2. forten on

      i’ve seen a few foreign films and this is the ONLY ‘spanish’ film i have ever liked (loved?). (i may have to watch “Devil’s Backbone” (if i can stand the
      imagery)) (And “MYSTERY OF RAMPO” is now on my to do list). As an unapolgetic non-atheist and non-catholic i highly recommend this film (with caveats of course) to mature, thinking viewers.

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