Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Pan's Labyrinth : Is It actually any good? Really?

Controversial. Sacrilege, you might say. The Spanish language film directed by acclaimed Guillerme Del Toro in 2006, and released to widespread critical praise won countless awards, including 3 Oscars, and rose to the top of many "Best Of" lists for films that year.

Now the thing with praise is that it can sometimes disguise the reality. A Chinese whisper effect takes place as journalists communicate to one another that x film is the coolest thing ever, and they fall over themselves to heap superlatives upon it. The problem with this? Ever heard of the Emperor's New Clothes? There are films which you're told you will like, that you must like because everyone else does are often a disappointment. The best films often one where one has the least expectations or foreknowledge, discovered by accident while flicking channels, or taking a punt on a movie we've never heard of at the cinema. Perhaps it's something to do with consciously trying too hard, engaging the mind instead of letting the experience of a film hit you.

So, it was with trepidation that I sat down to finally watch Pan's Labyrinth on Sunday night. Suffice to say I was not disappointed. The story in set in Spain in 1944, as the battle to rid the country of rebels against the fascist rule of Franciso Franco is taking place, in this post-civil war period. Ofelia, a young girl of 11 who is in love with fantasy tales and literature, accompanies her pregnant mother to her step father, a ruthless captain working to wipe out the resistance to Franco's regime.

As they join Ofelia's new step father in the mountain ranges of North West Spain, the young girl discovers a Labyrinth, stealing away at night to follow a cricket which turns into a fairy, to find a mythical Faun creature in an underground lair who tells her that she is in fact Princess Moanna, giving her 3 tasks to complete before she is allowed to return to the underworld.

This magical world of mythic creatures and quests is counterpoised, as it unfolds against the harsh backdrop of a world in which the battle between the fascists and the rebels continues, as Ofelia also discovers a housemaid, Mercedes, and the resident doctor in the barracks are also assisting the rebels who hide in the hills, with brutal consequences.

The tale is in a sense like a modern day Peter Pan, with the young girl choosing to renounce the evils of the adult world for a fantasy which may, or may not actually exist. The ambiguity of the fantasy reminded me of the programme Life On Mars, and to a lesser extent, films like Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind, in the sense that the spectacle we are witnessing may or may not be real, but we are participating in a version of reality through the eyes of someone who is either crazy, or has visionary insight into another, fantastical reality, and is confronted with a choice.

It was a visceral experience, moving and highly emotional. You'll see in my earlier reviews from this summer, that I found Hellboy II to be over-rated, due to the presence of Del Toro as director. Visually stunning but lacking in a strong, engaging narrative. After seeing this earlier film I can now appreciate where the critical praise has come from. So, do believe the hype, after all.

Hack Rating 4/5

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