Fearful Symmetry

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Pan’s Labyrinth

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Fairy story

Fairy story

This is quite simply a masterpiece. Guillermo del Toro takes an incredible fantasy story and then makes it something very special by embedding it in a harsh historical story. In 1944 post-Civil War Fascist Spain a young girl, Ofelia, obsessed with fairy tales, along with her pregnant mother, travels to an old mill in the middle of the forest to live with her new step-father a ruthless Captain in the army. There are still rebels hidden in the woods and they are aided by the servant Mercedes who Ofelia befriends.

One night Ofelia is led by a fairy into a stone labyrinth. There she meets a satyr-like ‘fawn’ who tells her she is actually a princess but most prove her royalty by surviving three arduous tasks. Travelling from fantasy to reality then back again Ofelia tries to survive the evil she battles in both worlds.

There is so much going on here on so many levels. It’s a spin on Alice In Wonderland for a start. For a fantasy the characters are well defined and extremely well acted. Although loathsome you do have some sympathy for the Captain who tries to live up to an ideal he will never attain, symbolised by the watch he always carries with him. Ofelia’s mother is suitably tragic in the background whilst Ofelia herself and Mercedes provide a pair of gutsy heroines.

The special effects are subtle and genuinely magical, enhancing the story rather than just providing spectacle. In fact all technical aspects, such as costumes, sound and especially cinematography are exemplary.

There’s an obvious criticism of a regime like fascism on stifling the imagination. But there’s also more subtle stuff on it’s failures as bread is brought in from a centralised system when the Captain’s troops are housed in a mill.

There’s violence, and though relatively restrained in action, it’s made much more brutal and shocking by its context and del Toro’s direction than anything in the so called Torture Porn genre.

Pan’s Labyrinth is simply the best film I’ve seen this year, in fact one of the best I can remember ever seeing. Only the hardest of hearts will not be moved when fantasy and reality collide at the climax.

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 7, 2009 at 10:03 am

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