I was working late for the first time last week, on a Friday. Why oh why did I have to stay back of all days on a Friday, right before the weekend starts?
Anyway, to make up for it, a few of us went to watch the 2007 Golden Globes-nominated Best Foreign Language Film, Pan's Labyrinth. The movie was also nominated in the same category in the BAFTA awards and also for Best Screenplay.
The movie was absolutely brilliant and terrific.
Taken from IMDB,
Set during Franco's mopping up exercise after the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is a wonderful, dark fairy tale that, in a metaphor for Spain itself, teeters on the edge of nightmare dreamscapes of corruption, violence and the death of innocents.
This film is definitely not for young children. Although the fantasy sequences are gorgeously realised, and are fairy tales in the truest sense (in that they are dark, fey, dangerous and violent), most of the story (about three quarters of it, in fact) exists outside of the dreamland, in the even more frightening (and sometimes shockingly violent) world of a real life struggle of ideas and ideology.
Sergi Lopez is excellent as the brutal (and possibly sadistic) Falangist Captain tasked with routing out the remaining leftists from the woods and hills of Northern Spain. Into this precarious situation come his new wife (a widow of a former marriage, who is carrying his son) and his stepdaughter Ofelia (played to absolute perfection, by the then 11 year old, Ivana Baquero).
Uncomfortable with her new surroundings, suspicious of her stepfather and desperately concerned about the worsening condition of her mother, Ofelia uncovers a strange alternative world, and the chance to escape forever the pain and uncertainty of her everyday life.
Thus the film alternates between the world of Civil War Spain and the increasingly bizarre, dark and frightening world of the Pan's Labyrinth. As the twin plots progress, they intertwine, with the tasks of Ofelia becoming the choices faced by a Spain at the crossroads. The poignancy of the film lies partly in the fact that the victories of the child are reflected so starkly by the failures of the adult world.
I am not sure where I read this description before, but someone described it as Alice in Wonderland, but much darker.
Acting was superb all round, with the evil Captain played to perfection. He received his just desserts in the end, but the people he had killed and tortured seemed to deserve more than just the Captain's death.
Alternating between the real world and Ofelia's fantasy world was done seamlessly. Her fear for her mother's health and her dislike for her stepfather were reflected in the fantasy world, where she escaped to as a way to deal with all the uncertainty of the war and puberty.
In her fantasy world, Ofelia was a princess of the underworld, who came to the open world hundreds of years ago and now has to complete three tasks before she can return to her father, the king.
I had to admit that the fantasy gave me the jitters. There were creepy crawlies in the first task she has to complete, which was pure ewww for me.
The second task was stealing an item from the creature called the Pale Man, which I think is one of the scariest monster ever imagined. His eyes are in his hands and he sees things like this.
Ok, it may look hilarious instead of scary here, but in the movie, it was definitely the other way round for me!
It's a beautifully crafted story which managed to intertwine reality with fantasy. Kudos to director Guillermo del Toro (of Hellboy fame), who also wrote the screenplay.
There were also some scenes of violence and torture, which was edited out. There was one where the doctor has to saw off a man's leg as it can't be saved.
Even Wikipedia has an article on it and details the story in full, so beware of spoilers!
Visual-wise, the settings in the magical world is breathtaking. The camera work and angle tells the story in a captivating way, just like you were being read a fairy tale when you were young.
All in all, Pan's Labyrinth has my vote for Best Non-English Film of 2006. It even made it to the Oscar's shortlist for Best Foreign Film, whereas a certain story with lots of grandeur and boobs did not.
Highly recommended film. It has been a long time since an excellent fairy tale like this came along. I hope it will be shown in Malaysian cinemas. If not, go get the DVD! It will be truly worth it.
I rate it a high 4.75 out of 5.