Monday, January 22, 2007
Pan's Labyrinth
In which Codename V and Codename Mom had a good long cry.

It's only January, and already I've seen two standout films that are among the best I've seen in years. If 2006 was a cinematic wasteland in which I had to struggle to come up with five good films, in 2007 I think I will be spoilt for choice.

Yesterday, Codename Mom and myself took a small road trip to see Pan's Labyrinth. Expectations were well exceeded. I kind of ambushed mom with this one - I just said "let's go see a film, I guarantee that you will like it" and she was game. Codename Mom (previously established in this blog as a serious film buff) likes fantasies and subtitles. Score on both points. The cinema filled up pretty quickly, which was a pleasant surprise. This is the land of NASCAR and pro wrestling; one does not expect to find many people so keen to see a foreign art film.

But I digress. This film broke my heart. It is the story of Ofelia, a young girl in love with fairy tales. She goes with her pregnant mother to live with a new stepfather in 1940s fascist Spain. New Stepdad is an army captain, and he is Evil with a capital E. I can't spoil this for you, but he does horrible things to people. Codename Mom covered her eyes a few times, and even I flinched.

Ofelia is miserable, but soon finds an escape in a fantasy world. She stumbles across the labyrinth, wherein she meets a faun who promises her a new life. She must complete three tasks, and then she will take her rightful place as princess of the fantasy realm.

The tasks are gruesome. They are scary and dangerous. I've read reviews that reckon that it's all some kind of war allegory, and it probably is. But I wasn't trying too hard to figure that out. The second task is particularly nightmarish; she encounters a pale monster with eyes in his palms. He eats children. I can say no more.

I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't say any more. Everyone should see this film. But be prepared. Nothing good happens to anyone in this film. At all. It is a fantasy in part, but at heart it's about what war does to children. And families. It is not a Good vs Evil film wherein Evil is righteously conquered by Good, and all wrongs are summarily righted. It's a film wherein Good maybe conquers a little bit of Evil, but not without a great cost to itself. All wrongs remain pretty much wrong.

Pan's Labyrinth makes you think you've seen a happy ending when you have not. But you know, happy endings aren't always called for. As I said, this film is about what war does to children. That's not going to have a happy ending no matter how you look at it. As we were leaving the cinema, mom asked me "Do you think the fantasy was really happening to her, or was it just her way of coping with what was going on around her?" I told her what I thought, and she agreed. You will probably agree as well, but you'll have to experience it for yourself.

You will like this film if: You like powerful stories that provoke an emotional response. Also if you are a decent thinking person who can appreciate foreign art films.

You should avoid this film if: You are a moron.