Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The labyrinth of Pana: a cruel fairy tale

My expectations for this film had risen high since I had seen the trailer and heard the rumors and the reviews. Everyone has a kind of film that he/ she prefers. I always liked the dark fantasy films that resemble to children’s nightmares. Strong gripping images and mysterious atmosphere. That’s my kind of think. Films like The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen, Dark City and of course David Lynch’s films. From the trailer I built up an appetite for a film that would become part of my list of film-fetish. The labyrinth of Pana came close to become one of my beloved films but eventually it didn’t make it.
Let’s however, see at this film in the right perspective. The director Guillermo del Toro has no great achievement to present from his film past. The fact that he has written a film like The labyrinth of Pana after film like Hellboy and Blade II is in itself a very pleasant surprise. From his previous films one could find the elements of a strong and rich ability to built gripping images. The labyrinth of Pana, however, is a film that has more to offer than the gripping images. It has meaning.
During the Spanish Civil War a small girl if forced to deal with her new stepfather, an almost paranoid fascist. Her pregnant mother moves into his house in the country. As soon as she gets there she fells ill and dies during giving birth to a son. The worse the situation gets with her mother the more the child escapes into her fantastic world. In this world she is a princess of the underground world. She has to pass three difficult tests in order to be able to return at her kingdom and at her father. The Pana guides her through her ordeals and tests. But does he say the truth, does he guide her to her rightful place or he prepares to trap her? The full power and extend of a child fantasy is presented in great images. On the other hand at full contrast we become witnesses to the battles between the fascists and the rebellions. As more and more people are tortured and killed the child fantasies also become more dangerous, dark and violent. Her ability to escape the cruel reality to a dream world withers and she ends up trapped in a world equally cruel and frightening. In the end she manages to do her last leap into a dream fantasy by achieving her end and becoming a princess reunited with her father and mother in the world of the dead. In this way she dies with a smile.
The contrast between the cruel reality and the nightmarish fantasies of the child is always sharp and hard. The spectator can feel the violence of the real world seeping into the fantasy world and contaminating it. One can not relax during this film can not find relief even in the world of Pana. He has to stay on the edge and be prepared fro the extremely raw images that attack him. I am a well accustomed viewer of thrillers and splatters and still couldn’t handle the gore. Actually most of its violence is insinuated and little is actually demonstrated. Still most spectators would say that this film is extremely harsh.
The labyrinth of Pana has a lot to offer: An atmosphere with intense images. A good, original script with meaning. It is truly a good film even if doesn’t manage to become an excellent film. Something very small and fine is missing. It might be that the good atmosphere sometimes rises for small delicate details of an almost naturalistic world. Here the fantasy scene might have been a little too extravagant. Unfortunately the fantasy and the real world are too well divided and distinctive. I would prefer it if for a moment or two the spectator couldn’t understand in he/she was in the fantasy world or in the reality. The feeling of disorientation he would have in this case would probably add a lot to the atmosphere of the picture. It might have been the all too conventional end with the little girl eventually becoming the princess of a too beautiful world. Sometimes you can’t really put your finger on to what is lacking in order to transform a good picture into a filmic legend. Still The labyrinth of Pana has offered me images that stayed with me and that’s always a good sign. Maybe Guillermo del Toro will do better next time I have high hopes for him!

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