Published on January 15th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie6
Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review: A Confusing Film That Got Lost In Its Own Hype
Pan’s Labyrinth Film Review
Director: Guilermo Del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquera, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil and Doug Jones.
Here is Yellow Magpie’s Pan’s Labyrinth film review.
The much acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth has received many rave reviews such as the prolonged standing ovation at Cannes. However, it is hard to justify such praise upon seeing the film. There are many good set pieces but taken in the whole context, the film falters in its delivery.
‘she is forced to deal with her highly insecure mother, who externalises her angst upon her daughter’
Pan’s Labyrinth centres around two worlds. One is set in the harsh reality of Franco’s Fascist Spain and the other is the escapist fantasy world of the young protagonist, Ofelia. A young girl on the cusp of womanhood, Ofelia finds herself in the unpleasant situation of moving to the house of her mother’s husband, the sadistic and psychopathic, Captain Vidal.
There she is forced to deal with her highly insecure mother, who externalises her angst upon her daughter, and a tyrannical step-father who is charged with subjugating the local population.
To alleviate her onerous existence, Ofelia retreats into a fantasy world where she has to undergo three tasks in order to prove that she is worthy to enter her deceased father’s ethereal kingdom. Ofelia is guided through this process by a Faun who may or may not be trustworthy. Meanwhile all of this occurs next to the backdrop of a rebel resistance who are fighting against Franco’s regime.
‘This introduction is carefully built upon in some marvellously well-conceived set-pieces.‘
The film has several flaws that detract from the overall experience. Initially the characterisation seems spot on and highly accurate. Ofelia is a strong-willed young girl who independently sets out on her own adventure. Yet she also comes across as being conscientious and considerate.
This introduction is carefully built upon in some marvellously well-conceived set-pieces. Ofelia’s initial encounter with her ‘fairy’ is visually impressive and easily sets her up as an independent spirit with a fondness for adventure.
However, later on her careful characterisation inexplicably breaks down when she acts as a spoilt brat when undertaking her second task. This is something that does not sit too well with her character and appears to be self-indulgence on the director’s behalf allowing him to bring a fearsome creature to life. This problematic approach creates further headaches.
‘There is also an underlying implicit theme of sexual awakening throughout the use of the fantasy elements in the film that rests quite uncomfortably with the viewer.’
Puerile self-indulgence appears to be the only reason for some of the graphically violent images. Most film directors have an inherent understanding of using implicit ideas. Violence, fear and other strong emotions are not directly shown on screen. What happens as a result is the viewer creates the sequence in her or his own mind. Whatever image the viewer creates will always be much more powerful than any explicit image the director provides.
There is also an underlying implicit theme of sexual awakening throughout the use of the fantasy elements in the film that rests quite uncomfortably with the viewer. This is far from being atypical of most horror films. It is clear that Ofelia is quite close to womanhood. Pan, from which the film’s title is derived, is a god associated with sexuality.
One scene sees her crawl through a tree and in the process she gets covered in mud and slim in a horror fantasy sequence. This is consistent with other female protagonists being coated in slimy substances in horror films.
‘Evil is not presented just in the form of Vidal’s cruelty and capricious understanding of life‘
The film also explores the nature of evil. Captain Vidal, aptly played by Sergi Lopez, is truly a malevolent figure who kills people mercilessly on whim. He evokes tension and fear in every scene in which he is involved in. Captain Vidal provides a constant shadow over Ofelia and virtually every character on screen. Evil is not presented just in the form of Vidal’s cruelty and capricious understanding of life, rather it is the apathy of people who do nothing to thwart the Captain. This says more about the Franco’s army than it does the locals.
However, Ofelia’s mother is a weak woman who does little to protect her daughter. Like so many people who are unwilling to confront their own problems, she contemptuously isolates Ofelia for her ‘bad behaviour’. She is but one person who fails to stand up for justice.
The film’s exploration of Franco’s Spain and the cruelty and control that was inflicted upon the local Spanish inhabitants is unconvincing. There is never enough depth to satiate the viewer. What one gets is little more than a backdrop. The rebels who are fighting Franco’s regime are relegated to having no more than peripheral roles. Their real job is to provide the contrast against evil.
They are associated with action and empathy while those who facilitate Vidal are on the side of indifference and apathy. Their roles appear to be to provide a voice to the nature of goodness which is neatly summed up as fighting against injustice no matter the odds or the consequences.
‘There is no explanation as to why Captain Vidal is obsessed with having a male child seemingly at the expense of everything else.’
It is also the rebels which highlights the flaws of the film that seems to be the central problem with Pan’s Labyrinth – a central trust. What we get are nicely woven vignettes however the film lacks cohesion. Things are never fully explained. For instance, one is not aware of the significance of any of the tasks Ofelia undertakes. There is no explanation as to why Captain Vidal is obsessed with having a male child seemingly at the expense of everything else. Likewise the viewer is never told the true motivations of the Faun and he remains quite an ambiguous character throughout. However, there is also an odious aspect to him that makes the viewer’s skin crawl and one is not quite sure to which side he belongs, good or evil.
There could be several more examples alluded to also. None of the above by them selves are worthy of complaint. It is perfectly reasonable for a film not to explain and patronise the viewer. Nevertheless, when you have a plethora of explained phenomena you have an unsatisfactory film.
Obtain The Film From Amazon
If you want to watch Pan’s Labyrinth you can do so here from Amazon.
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For Germany: Pan’s Labyrinth.
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