Hey folks, Harry here... Guillermo called me from London after this screening, very happy about how it went. Next he's headed to Venice to be a juror at the Venice Film Festival - and our man Quint will be seeing PAN'S LABYRINTH in Los Angeles later this weekend. As Quint's there for another TRANSFORMERS behind the scenes report. However, SMALLS, as this spy likes to be called, loves PAN'S LABYRINTH - which is a common ailment that seems to be befalling all those that come within its spell. I'm DYING to see it.
I've read the site for so long and never posted a review, but after seeing Guillermo del Torro's Pan's Labryinth last night, I felt moved to send you this. I know its long, so if you want to edit it by all means do so (I'll trust you!).
Without further ado...
It’s the morning after the night before and having had time to reflect, I had to share my thoughts with you about Gillermo del Torro’s latest, Pan’s Labyrinth. I went to London’s Frightfest horror festival last night and the film’s first public screening since Cannes, where it was introduced by the man himself.
Before I entered the cinema I’d heard of the 25-minute ovation at Cannes and read Frank Darabont’s gushing feedback on the web, and after seeing the trailer I was cynical it could be that good. I knew it would be good, but surely not? My doubts disappeared when the enthusiastic Guillermo and Alfonso Cuaron (They co-produced it) introduced it. According to Guillermo, this film is a true labour of love – he deferred his fee, significant parts of it are autobiographical and he even described Pan’s Labrynth as a ‘piece of my soul’.
Well, what a soul that man must have! Like his previous film (and companion piece to Pan’s Labrynth) The Devil’s Backbone, this is set around the time of the Spanish civil war. Like the former film it has a child main protagonist (In DD it was a boy, in Pan’s it’s a girl), both have an evil fascist (or proto-fascist) as the main antagonist, and both have an ethereal dream-like quality that make fairy tales so appealing to all ages.
However, whereas Backbone is more of an old-fashioned ghost story, Pan’s Labyrinth is like the best children’s fairy tale. The key to fairy tales is that they work as allegories about the end of childhood, coming of age and the loss of innocence. That’s why they resonate with generation after generation. Pan’s Labrynth is the 21 Century’s fairy tale, to be shown again and again to generation after generation.
The story is quite simple – a young girl, Ofelia (The awesome Ivana Baquero), is forced to live with her mother and new stepfather, a sadistic Fascist Captain hunting ‘reds’ in remote mountains. Her mother is ill with her unborn son and Ophelia is left to explore the woods around the army camp. It’s here she finds the Labrynth in question and meets a Faun, who tells her she is the princess of a magical underground kingdom and to get back, she must complete three tasks.
It sounds simple, but like The Devil’s Backbone and all the best films, Pan’s only unravels its secrets in the hours and days after you’ve seen it. It stays with you, sticking under your skin, unveiling more and more to you, letting you slowly understand and appreciate its message of hope and the retaining of childlike innocence, no matter how much evil there is in the world around you.
Speaking after the screening, del Torro mentioned the 9/11 as a reference point to Pan’s Labrynth, and the ruthless attempts of the pitiless Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez managing to top his performance in Harry, He’s Here To Help) to crush the socialists’ resistance and his use of torture resonates in our times. But it’s the girl’s innocence and hope in her quest to return home and find happiness is a message of hope to us all.
Like journalism, you cannot hide in filmmaking. If you’re heart’s not in your work, the audience will see it up there on the screen. That’s why so much Hollywood product feels soulless and vacuous, because people are making the film to make money not because they have a story to tell. On the other hand, when a filmmaker is passionate about his work and puts his (or her) heart and soul into a film, then it shines through and stays with you. Pan’s Labrynth is like the most passionate love affair – what you see on screen is Guillermo and his love of film. The story is so rich and textured, with not a false moment or one-dimensional character – everyone is real and complicated with their own hopes, fears, faults and sympathetic traits – well, apart from Captain Vidal. Visually the film is like a lush Rembrandt masterpiece or Monet watercolour – the colours leap out at you and command your rapt attention, and the directorial flourishes are not the gimmicks of someone showing off, but the sign of a director fluent in cinematic language and deeply, deeply in love with it.
From the incredible opening shot, to an ending that has the perfect blend of pathos and a sense of hope that lifts your spirits, Pan’s Labrynth is the perfect film that constantly surprises, always intrigues and never fails to hold your attention. If like me you’ve become increasingly cynical about films and cinema in recent years under the bombardment of unimaginative dross from Hollywood, Guillermo’s Pan’s Labrynth will restore your love of film and storytelling.
Introducing the film, Guillermo said his film wouldn’t receive a massive marketing push and wouldn’t be in thousands of multiplex screens but he said this film is the one he’s most proud of, most in love with. He implored the audience to go out and evangelise this film to friends, family, strangers on the streets. Well I implore you to do the same – everyone must see this film - and Guillermo, I hope by posting my humble opinion this will do what you asked.
Harry, if you use this, call me Smalls!