Saturday, January 27, 2007

sPAiN'S Labyrinth

So many questions came to mind during my screening of this film...

Question #1.... What is this movie about?

I had no idea going in. I thought it was a Mexican fairytale. It isn't. It isn't quite a fantasy story because half of it is dripping in brutal realistic violence. So, genre-wise, this film is half child's fantasy and half R-rated period war drama.

Pan's Labyrinth is the story of a lost princess from the underworld who has been apparently reincarnated several times as a human until she is finally reborn into a little girl, Ofelia, who lives in Spain at the end of the Civil War. Blood, blood, blodd. Ofelia's God of the underworld father has finally found her and for a reason that is never really explained, now needs her to complete some tasks before he takes her back to the underworld. Ofelia's task is complicated by the fact that her human mother has married the worst most evil man on the planet, who happens to be a Captain on the Nationalist side of the War. And one of his friends is a complacent priest. Torture, murder, abuse. One of Franco's minions, the captain spends the whole movie killing and torturing and abusing everybody else. Pretty much everybody dies. The movie sets up a group of perfectly pure and good leftist guerillas with whom Ofelia develops a connection. Ofelia is sent on two terrifying and repulsive quests, until she is challenged to give her life to save her baby brother. And at the end, the good forces of marxism conquer the evil forces of Franco (and the Church!). But Ofelia doesn't live happily ever after, exactly.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have a movie set during the Spanish Civil War that seems like it is going ahead. I tried to be fair in my movie showing evil on both sides of the conflict. I suppose that knowing the truth about the period probably ruined my enjoyment of Pan's Labyrinth which requires you to just go with the notion that all virtue in the struggle was on one side.

So, know that Pan's Labyrinth is at one level a two hour leftist political fantasy. (I'm not sure what it is at the other level.) If you can't find it playing near you, go rent a copy of Eisenstein's October for a similar,and certainly more coherent rush.

Question #2....Please, somebody tell me, what is all the raving about? Let's be serious for a moment and look at this film for what it is. Really, not that good.

The principle strength of the film is the look of it. Some of the frames were quite interesting. I wouldn't say beautiful, but definitely interestingly composed. With the possible exception of the labyrinth itself there was almost no symbolic imagery in the film, so you don't get the added points of depth of meaning to make the images resonate even more. And if the labyrinth was supposed to be an image - it seems too contrived an object not to be - then it was startlingly UNdeveloped in the story.

Another comment about the look of the film was what I like to call really well-drawn visual ugliness. I found this to be true in the LOTR movies too. You know, that's where the orcs look really, really disgusting? Well, Pan's has lots of that kind of thing in the fantasy sequences. In fact, all of the fantasy moments are outstanding in their effective realization of repulsiveness. So, the film gets points for good-looking gruesomeness....if that's your thing. Not sure it's Jesus'. Have to check...

Pan's two stories are a mess. Even understanding that it is half-fantasy film (and half starry-eyed leftist romanticism), thiings happen not by necessity but because the storyteller needs them to happen. The inciting incident happens as a damn coincidence in which Ofelia's mother JUST HAPPENS" to get sick and stop the car on the side of the road near which one of the underworld fairies JUST HAPPENS to be waiting. And then Ofelia JUST HAPPENS to step on some kid of magic stone. And while her adult escort JUST HAPPENS to be distracted ends up JUST HAPPENING to stumble over the magic obelisk in the woods.

Several of the principle "plot points" (and I use the term loosely, but this is a European/foreign film - Spain/Mexico - so we are supposed to be grateful if there are ANY discernible plot points...) had me slapping my forehead saying, "Oh please." The A-story, being the fantasy stuff, bears no necessary relationship to the B-story, that is, the political propaganda story. That kind of disconnect is usually the definition of bad, agenda-driven storytelling. But for some reason, the critics are giving this film a pass on the limits of its narrative.

Then, there is the BIZARRE mixing of genres which, also, everybody usually agrees defines a narrative mess. When I heard that this film was "fresh," I didn't realize "fresh" here meant mixing fauns and fairies and little girl's humming lullabyes with close ups of torture and gun shots to the head and, lots of one-sided leftist romanticizing. Talk about "one of these things is not like the others"! This whole film is a clinic in narrative and thematic confusion...and agenda driven filmmaking.

Let's keep going on the technical problems.

The script, even apart from the story being a mess, was a few limps shy of being purely pedestrian. The dialogue was banal. There were no real clever moments. There were no paradoxical choices. There was nothing insightful in the theme. The theme here seems to be "People who aren't us (we're leftists) are evil." Not exactly universally compelling. More like the stuff for which I am always nailing Christian films. Only, you know, rightwards.

Pan's characters are developed according to the easiest most cliched methods starting with "the audience will like her because she is a cute, innocent looking little girl" to "let's establish the villain by having him shoot somebody in cold blood as a lark." The characters make choice after unmotivated choice, starting with the little girl lead who does some incrediblely un-little girlish things which I never bought. Just because she reads a lot of books we're supposed to conclude that she doesn't mind golfball size maggots crawling all over her? Uh-huh.

The actors were poorly directed. Unless of course, your model for acting is "1920's Soviet valentines to socialism" films. I thought to myself as I was watching, "Hmmm, the last time I saw this much earnest purity on the good guy side, and hypocritical cruelty on the bad guy side was when they made us watch all those boring Soviet propaganda films in film school." (Heck. And I thought watching those films was a waste...)

I could go on, but what's the use? People seem to have decided to laud this silly, easy film as brilliant, with all of its problems being called "fresh". It ain't fresh. It's "important"!!!

Question #3... Did Spain learn NOTHING at all from its tragic, terrible, hellish Civil War?

The answer, from watching Pan's Labyrinth is an emphatic "No." Sixty years later, this film sets the clock back to one-sided pillorying of the other side. Portrayals of "the other guys" as corrupt, barbaric, hypocritical, conniving and without the least humanizing quality is what got Spain into the Civil War in the first place. And then, the film borrows completely from the leftist mythology which is getting replayed in Spain today that the Church was in sympathy with Franco's attrocities.

My thinking is, it's never going to help a social debate to put all evil on the other guy's side. America is wallowing in radical polarization because it's been 150 years since we ended up killing each other in Civiil War. Spain has really no excuse for this kind of short-term memory lapse.

Question #4... Is it that Europeans can't tell a coherent narrative, or that they won't?

Hollywood takes its cue in narrative principles from Aristotle. Europe, in rebelling against Hollywood-style filmmaking, has had to rebel against Aristotle's Poetics. This is bad for their movies.

I sat there watching Pan's ridiculous lurching around from one story to the other without any attention to what the audience needs in storytelling, and wondered how it was that the folks who produced some of the greatest novelists ever, can't seem to pull off a begining, middle and end connected by necessity.

I'm thinking that after centuries of Aesop and Brothers Grimm and national folk tales and Arthurian legends, the Europeans are just plain old sick of a good story. And how's that working for you, Old World?

Question #5... Why are so many Americans raving about this film? (and the corollary) Why are so many Christian Americans raving about this film?

Americans are raving about this film because its leftist message puts in in that genre of "important" film. If a film is "important" in Hollywood, then all of its technical sins are forgiven. Americans are also raving about this film because Hollywood has a deep-seated inferiority complex towards Europeans, that they know about art and we don't. So, when a European makes a halfway coherent story (and Pan's is definitely coherent. It's just puerile...) the Los Angeles film industry falls allover itself to be on the side of "brave" "amazing" "artistic vision." The fact that the movie is kind of, um, dull, mustn't be spoken.

And the Christians? I dunno. Maybe it's that longing to be hip thing? Jump on the edgy-bandwagon when we can syndrome? Christian critics are giving it a pass because it's got a "new" look, even though that newness is the old definition of bad filmmaking in Hollywood. And even despite the fact that the film caricatures and scapegoats the humans who are serving as villains. And even though the film uses graphic, desensitizing brutality. And even though the film takes an unfair swipe at the Church. And even though the strongest point in the film is in making some really ugly creatures. And even though there really isn't that much here, here in terms of ideas.

One Christian friend told me the film was "a really bold, different creative vision." Yeah, but Xanadu was "bold and different too.

Question #6....Should people see this film?

It depends. Do you care about seeing a movie that is an gross mythology of one of the most tragic Wars in the 20th Century? You will see a whole bunch of people shot in the head. You will see several people bloodied by torture. You will see a child shot in the stomach. You will see a woman shove a knife in a man's mouth and then slash his face in half. You will see a piles of bloody rags from a woman dying in childbirth.

As all the critics are saying, "It's magical!"

Hah! Pass. And say a prayer for Spain.


Anonymous said...

"Is it that Europeans can't tell a coherent narrative, or that they won't?"

del Torro is Mecixan.

Anonymous said...

I loved Pan's Labyrinth. Man, I hope your film is good for all the vitriol you heaped on this one.

Anonymous said...

It is strange that Christians like the plot of Pans Labryinth. The most beautiful thing about the Christian story is tht salvation is by grace and Pans Labrynth lacks that.

Anonymous said...

this is the best film i've seen in over 25 years.

Anonymous said...

I went into the theater with an open mind, not really knowing what the film was about. I left wondering why in Gods name this movie was made. Easily the biggest waste of time in the proud history of time wasting. Terrible, predictable, and boring.

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstood the movie. It's neither leftist propaganda or a (true) fantasy/fairy-tale story. First, the rebels are never stated to be Communists but merely anti-Fascist. While historically the anti-Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War were Communists, the de-emphasis of this (and the rebels' glee at an American invasion) would indicate that that's not the point. All of those "coincidences" that you point out... the car stopping at just the right place for Ofelia to find the fairy, etc. were not really coincidences. The fantasy realm was all in Ofelia's imagination. No matter where she went, it would follow her because it was of her own invention. The idea, as I understand it, is that Ofelia is so emotionally crushed by her step-father's brutality and actions that she retreats into a fantasy world where she, in effect, fights him. The frog is symbolic of her father's sapping the life from the camp. The Pale Man sitting at the head of the feast is paralleled with the step-father's being at the head of the feast with the townsfolk. In each case, Ofelia's actions are her goodness fighting her father's evil. The ending indicating that even in her father's killing her, evil cannot defeat good. Pretty much every "fantastical" aspect of the movie is symbolic of Ofelia's relationship with her parents and her brother.

Anonymous said...

Why do you have such a chip on your shoulder? like the person before me said, "The fantasy realm was all in Ofelia's imagination. No matter where she went, it would follow her because it was of her own invention." You're making false statements based on false info. I am 15 and i saw through such a sad, misdirected snipe on a pretty good film. However, in all fairness, yes, the hero/villan senario was lopsided. However that does not make this propaganda, it simply means that the war is still fresh in the eyes of history. Any war that was not won more than 500 years ago will usually be presented in a onesided manner. Now, i know i will be rebutted for this, but lets take WW2, as the memery of it is still rellativly fresh. Were all of the nazis compleatly evil people? No. did they do terrible, evil, things? yes. In fact, hitler did some good things for germany, and might have been a good leader, if he hadn't turned out to be totaly insane. To preserve the integrity of my argument, i would like to point out that i am not a nazi, or a nazi sympathizer in any fashion, i am just stateing the facts. My point is simply, yes, this film does have the usual flaws seen in almost any war movie, but other than that, shows the originality that most films in this genre lack completly.

Anonymous said...

I rather enjoyed the movie for what it was. you honestly read far too much into it. As far as Christians liking any aspect of the story - what's so wrong with it? Christians liked passion of the christ and it was far more brutal and barbaric. These actions took place, its reality. there are brutal people in the world, in every country, and from every religion. Not every movie made, in fact very few, are going to stem from christian beliefs. Why? Because most of them wouldn't do well. Left behind is a fine example. The more you read into a movie something that is not supposed to be there, the more you will dislike the movie. Movies are created to be taken as is, not have ridles and rhetoric read into them. If i were to try and read everything christian into say, the little mermaid, people would think i was a radical fanatic.

Professor Zero said...

I like Anonymous 5:02's reading - it makes the film coherent.

I didn't enjoy the film much, it seemed hackneyed and shallow.

Leftist fable it isn't, although it is quite critical of patriarchy. But the Fascists were the Bad Guys, and the antifascists the Good Guys, it was very stereotypical.

So the most interesting reading I have seen so far is this one of Anonymous', on the tale as Ofelia's response to violence.

Anonymous said...

The point of the brutality was not for its own sake, it was to tell the story. It made me cringe, but that's precisely what made the film so powerful.

Like the people before said, the coincidences were meant to make it seem like it was all in Ophelia's imagination. And even if it wasn't, which is left equally possible, she was seeing fairies and magical kingdoms and drawing chalk doors through solid walls, and THAT'S where you decide to stop suspending your disbelief? Fan-ta-sy. Look it up in the goddamn dictionary.

All the points you bring up and repeatedly reiterate are utterly redundant and unnecessary. The violence was there - and it's a fucking civil war, what else do you expect, singing daisies? - AND IT WAS NOT THE POINT. THE GRUESOME MONSTERS WERE NOT THE POINT. The movie was a parable about authority, and doing the right thing even if it means going against it. Would they seriously have been able to bring that message across if they'd made the Captain a nice jolly fellow who told jokes and bought everyone candy? And then all Ophelia needed to do for her tests was sing and dance and twirl her hair? It seems that you were so fixated on the gruesome goresome gruesome gruesomeness that you forgot to watch the movie.

And all that crap about the maggots and "everybody dying". Is it that you just can't seem to get the simple story through your thick, thick skull, or that you won't?

So yeah, the film's not any good. And you're not a complete waste of space and oxygen. Here's hoping your movie tanks. But then again, there are people stupid enough to vote for Bush and try to outlaw abortion. In that case, here's hoping you get hit by a bus.

Anonymous said...

Invincible, Over the Hedge, and MI:3 are among the author's favorite movies of the year........... .. .

Anonymous said...

I went into this movie without any idea what it was about. I was striked by the similarities to themes in the bible.

Eating the forbidden fruit such as Ofelia did brought shame, paralleled to what Adam did in Genesis. Then there was separation between man and God (displayed through Ofelia and the faun), but by God's grace we are given a second chance at redemption, like Ofelia was.

In the end her death mirrored that of Christ's, being reunited at the right throne of her father. Those who say this film lacks meaning I would argue dont understand the price Jesus paid for our sins nor do they want to know...

P.S. for those who cant understand why Christians like such gruesome movies, read the Old Testament, its filled with war and death like you wouldnt believe!

Clara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clara said...

My dear lady, your ignorance is appalling. You have no clue about the Spanish Civil War, to begin with. FYI, the movie is set 10 years after it ended, and it's based on the historical phenomenon of the "maquis", the republican guerrilla that took refuge in the mountains. You also have no idea of what happened during the war or after it, nor of the atrocities that took place during the dictatorship. Being anti-fascist is not necessarily the same as being lefty. Again FYI, the Catholic Church had a very, very powerful grip in the economy and politics of the country, during the 40 years of Franco's rule. It's part of history, not a political pamphlet.

As a Spanish cinephile, I'm also quite surprised at how you fail to understand the movie at a basic level, as well as your hollywood-y view of movies. I guess that movies that challenge the ordinary storytelling discourse and deal with topics that are not squeaky clear and nice are clearly beyond your very limited comprehension.

I'm usually conciliating and avoid confrontation online, but I was offended by how self-righteous your ignorance is.

Anonymous said...

I just watched this via dvd...I am so feeling you. What was all the noise about? And, what is all the backlash for your opinion? I'm a Christian and while I can stretch my view to see the symbolism of Christ dying in the end...I choose not to. Come on, is our faith so weak that we have to hitch it to everything coming along. I think not, and definitly not something so violent. I'm not a film critic just a person who wants to enjoy a good plot, with some good scenery, and so forth. This one didn't cut it for me. Thank God there's at least one critic honest enough to say "The emperor doesn't have on new clothes, he's naked!"

Anonymous said...

I also saw this movie and I am amazed that no one has said anything about the incredible usage of ancient symbolism. This movie was like an amazing magican that directs your attention one way while doing the "magic" in the other hand. While this movie may have had an odd story tied to it, the story is the distracting background on which this symbolism takes place. Go look it up and see the scarier side of the story.

By the way my husband loved it even though we had to stop the movie so he could go lay down so he wouldn't pass out when he saw the man sewing his cheek! Go figure!

Hoping that this Blogger's movie tanks because they desided they didn't like a movie is rather childish. I am sure that if you posted your view about a movie you would prefer not to get verbally flogged.

Please be gentle with people and how you talk to them on blogs as it is an extention of themselves and their ego.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie and it was pretty damn good....makes you think. Sounds like you live in your mom's basement and rent movies off her Direct TV, while shoving half a pepperoni pizza down your fat double chinned throat. So go out, SOCIALIZE, and get fucking laid you piece of crap!

Anonymous said...

Wanted to point out that towards middle-part of the movie, the Captain stares himself down in the mirror while amidst shaving and motions with his blade cutting his throat. This man was not entirely one-dimensional. While he did awful things in the name of his government, it was obvious he was not proud to do what he did. Another example of this humility is found when he swears at his soldier for not checking the two poor men's belongings well enough before killing them. It's that defense mechanism; once he realized they were not rebels and were of no threat it began to eat at him.

And on another note, as far as radicals go. There is a pretty nutty website out there that refers to Pan the Faun (as well as Tumnus from Narnia) as being a pagan god of male sexuality/verility and that the film (again, Narnia) had an extreme pedophilic nature. Supposedly because there is a horned beast/humanoid with a young innocent girl protagonist.

Finally, another rant of sorts, the movie really gets to be chilling when you consider the thought that all of the fantastical parts of the movie were entirely in Ofelia's mind to cope with the anxiety of the rebel conflict, her mothers troubled pregnancy, an abusive step father, and no young people her age. Ofelia also was suffering from emotional neglect because her mother was more concerned about will of the captain than she was her health, Ofelia's mourning for her deceased father, and ultimately Ofelia's human/emotional needs.

Unknown said...

I am partial to this movie. The idea of juxtaposing real life and fantasy is an interesting one, however the execution of the film in my mind was lacking. The imagery was rather mundane, and the main characters more reminiscent of puppets since all of their actions appeared to be predetermined. Had the distinction between fantasy and reality, and between good and evil been less clear, the viewer would have been in a better position to identify with the main character.