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Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

Does Ofelia seem dressed like Alice in Wonderland?

This film begs the question, "How does one differentiate between a fairy tale and a historical tragedy?" Are fairy tales just tragic historical stories which have been passed down through the ages to serve as warnings/object lessons for the young? Or do historical tragedies just lend themselves to becoming "fairy tales"? This film has fairies, history and tragedy, yet it's also uplifting, depending on your perspective and what you believe to be real. I think one of the great things about this film is your interpretation of whether you believe that evil can actually accomplish a good thing or if a child's innocence can see true evil and still interpret it as something which can be overcome, even through tragedy.

Set during the Spanish Civil War, the film tells the story of a terrifically scary and violent Captain (Sergi López) who brings his pregnant wife (Ariadna Gil) and stepdaughter Ofelia (the beguiling Ivana Barquero) to his remote war compound where he and his men try to quash the nearby rebels. One of the Captain's servants, Maribel (Maribel Verdú) becomes a surrogate mother to Ofelia as her real mother approaches childbirth.

Ofelia loves to read and is even reading a fairy tale at the beginning of the film which seems to tell and foretell her own life's story. Actually, this scene occurs just after the actual beginning of the film, which, coincidentally, is also the ending of the movie. Afterwards, Ofelia immediately becomes involved with fairies, a mystical faun, a labyrinth, and a series of quests she must accomplish to be able to reunite with her King and Queen parents and take her rightful place as a Princess loved by all.

The girl's inner life (or is it?) is contrasted with the Captain's world where torture, violence and oppression rule. I may be making this film sound deadly serious and oppressive, but actually it's full of life. The cinematography and editing are VERY alive and place you right in the middle of the story. I can appreciate the Wow! logistics and results of the photography of the wonderful Children of Men the same year, but even though it cost me a point in my annual Oscar voting contest, the cinematography of Pan's Labyrinth seems borderline 3-D and is truly spectacular, especially seen on a BIG screen.

Ultimately, it's up to each viewer to decide whether this film is realistic, a fairy tale, or a combination. It's also up to you to decide if the ending is sad or happy. Additionally, you have to decide if this film comments truthfully on the subject of the Spanish Civil War or does it actually "whitewash" it in the name of a kid's movie. I'm not really sure how anyone could watch this violent film and think it's a kid's movie, but, as I say, the film is open to intrepretation. I interpret it to be an enthralling work of art, both heartbreaking and life-affirming, but that's why I'm posting it here, in my personal list.