El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)
I'm still struggling with this film, and I think that the Internet is to blame. There's been a lot of positive commentary about the film, and much of it building it up to be utterly wonderful, however I'm still struggling with how much I enjoyed it and how good it actually is. Even as I write this I am unsure how I truly feel about the film and how much to rate it with, perhaps I'll have decided by the time I've finished writing.
Ofelia's mother married a Captain in the fascist army that controls Spain during 1944. His pursuit of the rebel army leads him into the hills where he must flush them out and destroy them all. He is a brutal and cold man, something we see early on as he tortures and kills in cold blood without a second thought.
Ofelia's mother is struggling with a difficult pregnancy and the poor girl is left to her own devices, but as she arrives at her new home in the country she begins to realise something magical is happening, and a gateway to another world is just a few steps away.
The film is beautifully shot and visualised. Guillermo del Toro keeps the camera and the story progressing at an even pace, you'll notice that almost as soon as the story begins we're beginning to see the possibilities of something magical, and that pace is kept throughout the film.
Tension is built well too. There were times when I wasn't really aware of being taken in by the film, when I would start to feel anxious for a character, unnerved and restless, wanting to hurry them along and prevent something bad happening which del Toro had been so clever to point out to you at the start of the scene.
Fairy tale this is not, for the film is kept dark and menacing for the most part, and when we are in the real world it's quite oppressive and violent. These moments of violence are often quite brutal, for instance the scene where the Captain meets his first prisoners we see a recreation of a scene similar to that from Irreversible, as the Captain repeatedly crushes the nose and face of one of the men.
We're greeted with scenes like this throughout the film, when there is a killing to be made the camera never deliberately turns away, neither does it settle on the victim, they aren't glorified and laden with effects to make them look gorier, but they are presented in a similar cold and matter of fact way of reality.
No, this isn't just a fairy tale, and even then when we are in Ofelia's world that same dark and menacing tone is still there. In fact we're never sure just what intention the faun creature really has, and as the film progresses his tone and demeanour become darker in tone and action.
The entire film carries a downbeat feeling that kicks off from the moment the first scene lights up and continues to the closing scenes, again, it's not really a happy fairy tale, it's harsh real life and for the most part it's difficult and sad.
The creature effects and the work of Doug Jones were superb. Together they have made some amazing creatures that look and behave as though they were alive, and it's not long before you just forget that they are costumes and effects, Jones is an incredibly physical actor and excels in these roles.
Unfortunately there wasn't as much of the creatures in the film as I thought there would be, in fact the appearance of the creature with his eyes in his hands is incredibly brief and seems almost wasted, especially considering the amount of work that had to be done for him.
The creatures were not the only aspect that seemed a little lacking to me, in fact the whole magical thread seemed to be somewhat lacking in compared to the real story in hand. I had the feeling that I was never truly grabbing hold of the fantasy side of the story and that we were just touching the surface of the tale. This meant that the two stories sat quite separately and never seemed to intersect, which is another aspect of the film I had expected.
I think this was mainly down to the fact that so much of the marketing was carried out on the shoulders of the magical storyline and it seemed that the story of the war and the Captain was secondary. In reality the tale is weighted more to the people in real life and not Ofelia and her world, although we do visit there a number of times, the films attention is firmly on the real life.
Yet this isn't such a bad thing. Yes I did feel as though we were missing out on the fantasy threads, but the side that we did look to, the reality of the Captain and his harsh methods against the rebels, was a strong and compelling one.
All the actors were incredibly strong with Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Ariadna Gil (Carmen, Ofelia's mother), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes, the housekeeper) and of course Sergi López (Captain Vidal), giving excellent performances. Lopez was very good and at times gave an incredibly cold and unfeeling performance.
It was though the women who took the performances, Verdú and Baquero took me into their characters and had me feeling anxious and concerned as they faced the might of the Captain and as Ofelia struggled with her tasks.
Still, I longed for more of the connection between the two worlds in the film, and I found that when I saw the magical world of Ofelia's I was watching with an adult's eyes and not through hers. Looking back this had a fair impact on the events at the end of the film for me, and although I felt emotion for some of the characters, I knew there was so much more I could have been feeling for all of them.
Much of the feelings I experienced were of pity for Ofelia, and I'm not sure that was right. There were other scenes too that I felt should have brought forth some strong feelings, such as revenge, anger, perhaps a little respect and understanding, but I didn't feel any of these although I recognised where they would be.
I think all this stems back to that feeling of not being fully connected with story, in particular Ofelia's story.
That said though, del Toro has produced a very good film with some rich and believable characters, one not even of our world, and filmed some amazing sequences. Scenes that are lovely and visually rich, or scenes that are uncomfortable, harsh and quite graphic to watch, and he's pulled these together seamlessly so that they never feel uncomfortable together in the same film.
I'm still very torn about this film, even at the end of writing this review. I truly don't know what rating to give the film and I'm torn between two marks. That reminds me of something I say time and time again, a film has to affect you, has to have you thinking after you leave that cinema, and Pan's Labyrinth certainly has done that.