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March 9, 2021
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Pan's Labyrinth
(2007-03-19)
(wgvu) - Pan's Labyrinth, the widely acclaimed film by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, is finally screening in West Michigan. This week the film was nominated for six Oscars, in Best Foreign Film, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Score, and Makeup. On Rotten Tomatoes Pan's Labyrinth currently rates with a 96 Positive on the Critics Tomatometer, and after seeing this masterpiece last night, I can see why. Pan's Labyrinth is an astounding achievement that mixes fantasy, horror, and fairytales, against the gritty backdrop of the brutal, violent aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The story occurs in 1944, after the war, when General Franco's forces are continuing to fight the remnants of the Republicans. There were harsh reprisals for Franco's enemies, with thousands imprisoned, and between 10,000 and 28,000 executed. In the mountains, leftist guerillas still fought, and Franco had soldiers and officers living in the rural communities to pick them off. This is the scenario of Pan's Labyrinth. It's the story of Ofelia, an 11 year old girl, whose father was a tailor who was killed, and whose mother has remarried to a Captain in Franco's army. The two have moved from the city to a small mountain community where Captain Vidal is fighting the guerillas. Ofelia is a delightfully imaginative girl, who loves the worlds of fantasy. As she journeys with her mother to live with the Captain, she stumbles across an ancient, pagan idol in the woods. After replacing a broken chunk from the statue's eyes, Ofelia is followed by an insect like creature that emerges from the stone mouth. Ofelia believes it to be a fairy, to her delight. When they reach the mountain stronghold, Ofelia's mother falls ill from the travel and strain. She's many months pregnant with the Captain's child. A country doctor scolds the cold Captain for forcing his wife to travel, and Ofelia's mother is restricted to bed. Captain Vidal reveals his true, murderous nature on their first night. After his forces capture two peasants suspected of being guerillas, Vidal summarily beats one to death, and shoots the other, even though they are shown to be innocent. This is just the first of many heinous acts by the Captain. Ofelia meanwhile begins venturing into the forest where she finds an ancient labyrinth. One night the fairy appears to her and takes her deep into the labyrinth, where they descend into a hidden chamber. There Ofelia meets an old Faun, the Pan of the title. The Faun gives her a book, which is filled with blank pages, and tells her that she must open it when she's alone. It will detail her future, and she must complete three tasks to fulfill her destiny as the Queen of the Underground. Her tasks will introduce her to subterranean worlds where giant toads live in overgrown trees, and weird pale men who are not men feed on the bodies of children. Insects and slugs transform into fairies and plump denizens of the underworld. And weird, sentient roots can cure an ailing, pregnant woman who is bedridden, if they're placed in fresh milk. In the most harrowing of the fantasy sequences, Ofelia uses a stick of chalk to create a doorway into a hidden world, where a creature with hands for eyes resides. She must steal a dagger and bring it to the Faun, but when she disobeys a strict rule, and eats food in that magical realm, the pale man awakens to eat her. (clip). Pan's Labyrinth is a must-see movie for those who love imaginative fantastical films, but also those who are interested in the gritty history of violence and warfare. Del Toro has fashioned a modern fairytale, an instant classic, and on NPR's Fresh Air he spoke about the power of such stories. (clip) Del Toro is a filmmaker who reveres the great American fantasists, from Ray Bradbury to Harlan Ellison. Many have written that the fantasy world that the girl explores is actually a way for her to escape the harsh realities and the so-called real world. But the director says, to him, the fantasy world in the story is real. (clip) For Del Toro, the entire world is fabricated, and his own fantasies and the constructs of the fantasists and fabulists of history, are as real as the empirical world that we call reality.

Don't miss Pan's Labyrinth, while you can see it on the Big Screen.
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