Friday, May 4, 2007

"EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO"
("PAN'S LABYRINTH")


Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Ivana Baquero

"Innocence has a power evil cannot imagine."

Cinema 7, Galleria


So while everyone was off to see Spidey weave his trail, I was happily ensconced in a dark theater getting awed by an enchanting fairy tale. The beauty that is "Pan's Labyrinth".

A film set in fascist Spain in the 1940s with two stories unfolding simultaneously onscreen. It is peppered by multidimensional real and mythical characters so genuinely authentic, you feel like you stepped inside the pages of a sombre yet fascinating book. Neatly narrated by the haunting voice of a menacing faun, you are easily transported into a magical world. Not necessarily a fun, cheerful place but it still has the same effect. After all, aren't most fairy tales frighteningly dark in nature?

All the usual ingredients for a dark fairy tale are present in this film. You have the lonely little girl, an evil step father, the slimy giant toad, the fairies, a magic chalk, the winding maze, the scary eyeless creature that eats children and of course the faun. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), the main heroine in this film is a typical little girl, a somewhat lonely soul who escapes into a fantasy world to block out her apparently harsh young life. Well I wouldn't blame her. Her young life is doomed to be spent in a merciless place with her equally doomed pregnant mother and her sadistic, torture loving step father, Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez).

Beautifully filmed in a dark Gothic like atmosphere, the film shifts effortlessly between the real setting and the fantasy world. A damp muddy place provides the backdrop for the very authentic depiction of a small fort/village being inundated by the Communists. Scenes of bloody and violent rebel uprising as well as shots of brutal torture mostly perpetrated by the Fascist soldiers are disturbing images yet you can't help but watch with awe. The fantasy part though supposed to be a magical place is just as dark too. Images of a dim labyrinth, a hidden world which can be entered by drawing a door with a chalk are all cleverly shot with cinematic prowess. A place inhabited by scary and revolting creatures, you sometimes wonder if this is really a fairy tale. Even the fairies look creepy, if you ask me. But it is refreshing to come across a film where you can tune out every few minutes within the fantasy world and in the same breath be exposed to really gruesomely harsh facet of Fascist Spain.

The actors all gave powerful performances without upstaging each other nor did they deviate from the central plot. Sergi Lopez who I've watched in several French movies was masterful in his grand portrayal of Capitan Vidal. A Spanish/French actor with a chameleon like ability to portray mostly villain roles, he has always brought something unique to each of the antagonists he has portrayed in his numerous films. Here, he is this slick haired, clean freak of sadistic and maniacal proportions incapable of any emotional attachment. Yet at the same time, you can't really hate his character because you understand his ruthless streak stems from a troubled background. You comprehend that Capital Vidal was merely performing his duty to the best of his abilities and he had to maintain a reputation befitting his position as an officer in the Spanish army.

But without a doubt, my favorite character in this movie is the Fauno or the Faun. Mysteriously ambiguous and equally manipulative, he is like a wolf in sheep clothing. Friendly and charming one moment and the next instant he is aggressive and fierce. A creaky creature that resembles a very old tree with ears who talks in such a mesmerizing haunting voice. An ambivalent creature who seems to mean well yet you can't help but wonder if he was double crossing Ofelia. His stern goat like appearance towering over the young girl was a sight to behold. Doug Jones, who is an English actor and doesn't speak a word of Spanish portrayed the faun with such aplomb. You can't help but stay glued to the screen each time he made his creepy appearance. He is everything you would imagine a faun to look like. Interesting enough, the only other faun I've seen is Mr Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", who was amusingly portrayed by James McAvoy. The young actor who was acclaimed for his role in "The Last King of Scotland".

The fact remains that director, Guillermo del Toro was able to convey a suspended sense of heightened fantasy vis a vis an apparently sombre reality. It is admirable that he wrote most of the story himself. It projects a vividly creative and fertile imagination which always provides for a good story telling technique, cinema wise. The film visually presented the effects of war through the eyes of a young girl. But in the grander scheme of things as far as mature fairy tales go, I believe his whole point is that sometimes in this merciless universe, it is so much better to go to a happy place deep within the recesses of our mind to escape whatever difficulties we experience in life. The trick though is to know when to draw the line between fantasy and reality.

Granted that the film is a heartfelt cinematic vision, the fact remains that there are still a lot of questions which abound. I don't know about you but it suits me just fine to have endless questions linger in my mind long after the end credits have rolled by. I'm sure I will continue to question "Pan's Labyrinth" for some time. That's a good thing, you know!

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