“I’m not convinced,” texted Dom-Dirk when I suggested that this was probably the most perfect film ever produced. Perfect in the sense that it cannot be improved. Perfect in its blend of myth, magic, politics, and its application of cinema to its full capabilities to shock, awe and evoke empathy. Just … perfection in every sense.
Spain, 1944, five years after the end of the civil war, a young girl and her pregnant mother are riding across country to meet her stepfather who is a captain of Franco’s Fascists. A fairy-insect catches her eye and lures her into an over grown labyrinth. This film grips you from the opening frame to the close and takes you on an imaginative journey that is completely unforgettable.
Narratively the film references a range of fables – Alice in Wonderland, Grimm’s fairy tales, Lovecraft – yet visually it is unique in its design. del Toro’s visionary imagery is a spectacular, yet unsettling, blend of stigmatic horror and Gilliamesque monsters, delivered with a clever use of puppetry and CGI in a manner that is unobtrusive and brilliantly done with such flawless artistry that you cannot see the joins.
The brutality of Captain Vidal, the evil step-father, is genuinely shocking, and the only legitimate response for a child is to find and escape into the realm of fantasy. THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973) is also apparent in its use of monsters as an escape route (one of Malcolm’s choices) however, Victor Erice’s vision is more charming, where there is a repeated reassurance that “no one really dies in films”. It’s a cinematic convention expects creatures from the imagination of children to be benign and will ultimately rescue them from the horrors of reality.
ET looks after Elliot.
The Time Bandits look after Kevin (by blasting his parents to coal).
In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia‘s relationship with the faun is as mean-spirited as the reality she is trying to escape from and there are no easy answers.
If you remain to be convinced, I urge you to watch it again. Do films get any more ambitious as this? Perfect.