I love a good fairy tale, and I love FX fests even if the visual candy comes at the expense of storyline, acting, and plain old sense-making (I'm looking at you, Argento, you goofball). Gritty, realistic dramas often purposefully dumb down the visuals to play up the story, so visually-centered films should be able to mirror that and grungify the narrative. I mean, look at Antonioni.
But wait, none of this has anything to do with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth
. The previews sure made it seem like a fantastic extravaganza of fauns, fairies, labyrinths, and, umm, ok miscellaneous other magical entities and settings. Not only is it not that; it's dumb, bewildering, frustrating, and entirely devoid of wonder.
It features two story lines: in the real world - Spain, 1944 - a remarkably unremarkable girl called Ofelia moves with her pregnant mother to a military outpost in the woods, run by The Captain (of general Franco's Generic Sadistic Assholes forces). Ofelia attempts to escape the harsh realities of World War II by fantasizing away into a labyrinth - I mean a book - I mean a door in her wall - oh what the hell, just arbitrary fairy tale locations. We are treated to a few brief (and disjointed) excursions to this underworld, which make up some sort of series of tasks for Ofelia, though the rules and motivations behind it all are, shall we say, hazy.
That's it for the magic - really. She gets a key from a toad, a knife from behind a lock, and eats grapes she was clearly instructed not to touch, a pointless rebellion for which she gets chased by a cool-looking but ultimately harmless geriatric monster. Lesson learned?
A good eighty percent of the movie, however, consists of The Captain dealing with resistance fighters in the nearby woods while announcing menacingly at every occasion his intent to merely harvest Ofelia's mother for a proud male offspring. As muddy a villain as he is, The Captain is played with gusto, and del Toro's background in horror film comes out quite clearly here. Scenes of physical and psychological violence are imagined masterfully and rendered in exquisite detail. Scenes of normal human interaction and all attempts at levity - eh, not so much.
It breaks down like this: most of the movie is a depressing, emotionally and historically childish war story full of plot holes. The little bits of fantasy are more confusing than enchanting; too short to have an effect, too arbitrary and too removed from the rest of the movie's world to even register emotionally. Remember how in Wizard of Oz
the fantasy mirrored the real world? That was a tad cheesy, but it worked like gangbusters. There's not even an attempt at connecting anything in Pan's Labyrinth
- really, if you can find some analogy, metaphor, or message here, do let me know.
Also, I'm not trying to spoil anything, but don't bring kids to this one - the ending is just awful, and not because this is an "adult fairy tale." (shame on you, Ebert). Oh no, adults should hate it too, for much deeper reasons.
What a failure. It's a very oddly executed movie, ranging in badness from lame to dumb to offensive, but mostly it's just silly, and not likeably so. For god's sake, there's very little Pan and NO labyrinth in Pan's Labyrinth. Yeesh.
P.S. Christa pointed out that perhaps there was an attempt at a parallel between The Captain's "just following orders", as described by The Doctor, and Ofelia's refusal to do so. If so, it's an appropriately clownish link. The Captain does not seem to be following any orders. He's a free-spirited villain, "with no one above him." And if you've seen the movie, remember Ofelia's prize for not obeying the evil - I mean good - I mean evil - faun? Yeesh again.
Labels: film, review, stupid