Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Fascist and the Faun

"Pan's Labyrinth" (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006, Mexico, 112 mins.) is one of the highest acclaimed films of the year, coming into awards season as an Oscar contender. The hype is deserved. Director del Toro has fashioned a self-described fairy tale, which to me, played out as a horror story involving the psychic damage incurred by a little girl under the strain of her evil (UNDERSTATEMENT HERE!) fascist step-father. She, Ivana Baquero as 'Ofelia', withstands the tests of both worlds she finds herself trapped in. He, Sergi Lopez as 'Captain Vidal', is basically a psychopath in General Franco's army, who undergoes one of the most hideous physical manifestations on film in recent memory. (The audience cringed, gasped and groaned for nearly 3 minutes of abject horror during 'that scene'!) Del Toro pulls NO punches in his screenplay or his visuals. I found the climax to be nearly shocking.

The film reminded me of the nightmares that Polanski or Pasolini have put on film, in their reaction to the horrors of the Nazi regime. "Pan's Labyrinth" is set in Spain in 1944, after Franco's victory, though there is still an active resistance at work. Oddly enough, Ofelia's fantasies (involving some fairies and an ambivalent faun, though the English translation would refer to him as 'Pan' in the title) are strongest before the realities become their most violent. It is as if she is faced with choosing between her two worlds as her step-father grows ever more dangerous, and she is pulled into the reality of the situation after having found her strength in her fantasies. The climax traps her between both worlds where she must make her final decision.

"Pan's Labyrinth" appears to be simply constructed, though it is deceptively dense in in its visual and literal homages and metaphors. Del Toro was present at tonight's screening, and during his Q&A touched upon the visual mythology that he quite liberally borrowed throughout the film. There were a couple of instances that I had picked up on (i.e., Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz), however as he continued to list his quotes, it became obvious that the film is a jigsaw puzzle of children's stories and pagan mythology. It would be easy enough to see the film once and appreciate it for its surface level of Brothers Grimm-like story telling. It is also a film that would bear repeated viewings to pick up on the nearly subliminal details that del Toro includes to express his personal demons as well as those of the character 'Ofelia'. In that way, he created a work of art that can be admired for its moral simplicity as well as studied for its textual and visual complexity.

During the Q&A, moderated by SF Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat and featuring the typically annoying audience fawning and self-congratulatory analysis, del Toro was able to take control of the comments and entertain as well as enlighten us with his unusual profane, yet deeply astute replies. The man quoted Kierkegaard in one instant after having described his adolescent masturbatory habits behind the alter in the church he grew up in. He was absolutely fascinating to listen to!

The only hesitation I can admit to is that the dialogue is fairly busy, which because it is in Spanish with English subtitles, the subtitling was almost distracting against his visuals, which may be another reason to view it again - to concentrate on the outstanding production design and cinematography and try to ignore the subtitles.


Maxxxxx said...

re "Pan's Labyrinth": "What's your name?"

JimmyD said...

I thought this film was incredible. I think del Toro is truly one of the most visionary film makers of today. His handling the ‘A’ part of the Q&A was extremely entertaining. He comes close to being the Kevin Smith of foreign film presenters. No pretension. He speaks from his heart and gut. He’s also wonderfully funny and insightful.
The ‘Q’ part was, what I’m noticing as part of the norm, consisted of a question regarding the casting of a black man in the role of Faun (Doug Jones is not black but does have double-jointed legs), a man who continued to ask about any direct influences of Takashi Miike. I think he brought it up at least three times, as if suddenly del Toro would drop to his knees and confess, “YES! I stole the whole thing from Miike! Now I must kill myself.” There was a man who went slightly off topic and asked about ‘Hellboy.’ Being a huge ‘Hellboy’ fan, this did not bother me.
Throughout the Q&A a woman interjected several times in a not-so-subtle voice. Once to ask the titles of two books to be repeated, something I personally would have waited until after the presentation, giving me an excuse to ask del Toro face-to-face, second to holler “Question!” I do not know if she had a question, could not hear the question, to which, again, in my fashion would have been to say, “Could you repeat the question.” But that’s just me. And finally, as the last ‘question’ of the evening to not ask a question but to offer the much annoying ‘comment’ of adulation and kiss-ass. This seems to be a common trend with these Q&A sessions. (Again, I would save my comments until after the show so I could meet the director in person, shake his hand, and ask for a role as a demon extra in the ‘Hellboy’ sequel!) The second del Toro finished with that comment he thanked the audience, which then burst into applause. I would go out of my way to hear him speak again.

9:43 AM, December 16, 2006