Art in the Most Naked Form

Spanish movie Pan’s Labyrinth was released in the year 2006. You might be wondering why I am reviewing it after two long years. Simple, better late than never, right? This is one movie which must spread the message of its existence in every nook and corner of the world. It is a gothic fairytale set against the postwar repression of Franco’s Spain. The doctrine of dual setting of the movie is its fundamental allure. I intend to put forward the luminosity of art in this film.

Pan’s Labyrinth is written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. It is produced and distributed by the Mexican film company Esperanto Films. This movie is 119 minutes of wholesome entertainment.

The narration is set in Spain in May and June 1944 shortly after the Spanish civil war, reflecting the turbulence following the war. Simultaneously, the movie illustrates the fantasy of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a girl of eight who is assigned three tasks to perform by a mysterious faun.

The opening scene of the parable, as insisted by Del Toro, depicts the departure of Princess Moanna of the underground realm.

Ofelia’s step-father, Captain Vidal (Sergi lopez I Ayats), viciously hunts the Spanish Maquis, guerillas who continue fighting the Franco regime in the region. Vidal is terror personified. If he desires, he can unabashedly be a blood sucking wolf ready to pounce at the drop of a hat. A shrewd, selfish and mercenary fighter, he can go to any extreme to sustain his power.

Ofelia lives with her pregnant mother (who dies in childbirth because Vidal chose his son over her during an emergency) at Vidal’s place and one day discovers an ancient labyrinth nearby. There she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who argues that she is princess Moanna and assigns her three tasks to be completed before full moon. The three tasks being, firstly retrieving a key from the belly of a giant toad that lives deep beneath the roots of a fig tree. Secondly, retrieving an ornate dagger from the lair of the pale man who is a sinister child eating monster. And thirdly, getting drops of blood of an innocent.

The movie centers on how Ofelia completes her tasks facing all the life-threatening hurdles. The gothic elements, magic and reflected terror together is the USP of the film. The computer generated imagery and the special effects along with complex make-up and puppetry, the movie succeeds in transfixing the audience, not to forget the actors who breathe life into their respective characters. One might skip a heartbeat while watching quite a few scenes in the movie which demand the utmost courage and guts of the viewer. Be it when Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) slices Vidal or the scenes showcasing the violence of Vidal, the psychopath who is impossible to defend. At the same time, Del Toro here does not lose track of the political connotations. He highlights the simultaneity of the unfolding of the political events; Vidal’s war with the oppositional camp, his undying hunger for power and eventually, his fall.

Towards the end, Ofelia’s blood drips onto the altar that was the gateway into the underworld. By offering her own blood, Ofelia proves herself to be a real princess. The final scene shows an objective little white flower blooming in a dead tree, symbolizing that Ofelia sustained the canons of morality inculcated in her in the real world as well the fantasy world. As far as the ambiguity of the movie’s dual setting is concerned, Del Toro clarifies that Ofelia’s fantasy world does exist. She blooms wherever she is planted.

Mark Kermode in The Observer labeled Pan’s Labyrinth as the best film of 2006, describing it as “an epic poetic vision in which the grim realities of war are matched and mirrored by a descent into an underworld populated by fearsomely beautiful monsters.”

During its limited first three weeks at the U.S. box office, the film made $5.4m. It is the fourth highest domestically grossing film in the U.S. The film appeared in many critics’ top ten lists of the best films of 2006.

The film won twenty five major prestigious awards including three academy awards for best art direction, best cinematography and best make-up. The film went on earning a lot of accolades and applause and there was no looking back for the actors too. The movie makes you believe the fantasy world of Ofelia. The creativity, the symbolic significance and the imagery depicted deserve a special mention for putting up such a stellar show. Harnessing the formal characteristics of classic folklore to a twentieth century landscape, Del Toro delivers a timeless tale of good and evil, bravery and sacrifice, love and loss. This movie has the perfect blend of art and entertainment with a sensitive handling of situations by the director with a sharp political vision. Pan’s Labyrinth is a must see, hands down. There is still much more to this movie but I refrain myself from divulging further as that would only kill the suspense because I hope you would watch the movie pretty soon.

Ananya Borgohain

[Image Source:]