Pan’s Labyrinth

I’ve been keeping this dvd to watch, like a special treat kept aside. Finally had a day completely off today, and took a couple of hours to watch it. Worth the wait! I’ve actually heard and read quite a few negative reviews of it, but I’d find it difficult to imagine anyone who wasn’t moved by the story. In the short : In the Spanish Civil War, a girl (Ofelia) loses her father, and has to endure her mother marrying a fascist Spanish captain, who moves them to a new part of the country. Her mother is pregnant with her little brother. She loves fairy tales, and has a vivid imagination, but her mother keeps warning her that real life is nothing like her stories. The war is brutal, and as guerilla fighters alternately evade and engage the Captain’s troops, Ofelia escapes into her stories. She chases a ‘fairy’ in the woods and it brings her to a land of magical fauns and monsters. As the film unfolds, Ofelia has to balance her magical life with her real life struggles.

There are lots of descriptions of the plot and characters out there, so I won’t repeat them myself, but what prompted me posting was remembering an entry on Lucy’s blog here which discussed rights and responsibilities especially in a horror context. Pan’s Labyrinth has been largely advertised as a magical fantasy, but some of the complaints I’ve seen seem to centre on whether or not it deserves this title. Most of the ‘disgusted and disappointed’ seem to think it is most definitely a horror. I don’t think it is, but therein lies the thought that intrigued me, and reminded me of Lucy’s blog entry. Many people seem to have been horrified and surprised by the violence – some calling it stomach-churning – which I do have to take issue with. As discussed in Lucy’s blog, the new range of ‘torture-porn’ titles that came out recently are to me (but not to everyone out there) stomach-churning, and you would have to pin my eyelids to my forehead to get me to watch anything along those lines. But ‘stomach-churning’ is subjective, isn’t it. Makes life interesting that we don’t all think the same (but to all of you who don’t agree with my opinions on this – you’re all a bunch of sickos, naturally).

Pan’s Labyrinth is certainly a film with considerable and brutal violence, but whilst I couldn’t watch some of it (though hearing it was almost as bad) I would defend its necessity to anyone. If I watch a film where a man is beaten to death with a bottle – in context – and for a reason (in this films case, to demonstrate the brutality and indiscriminate nature of war and those who hold the power in it) – then it should be unpleasant to watch, without being gratuitously depicted for entertainment’s sake. When someone is cut with a knife, it looks painful and bloody. It looks ‘real’. No slow-motion splatter or ’54 bullets before they die’ going on. Even in the fantasy sections, the violence is handled in a ‘real’ and occasionally horrifying way. This is definitely not a film for children, although maybe if they saw what a real knife can do to someone’s face, they might respect them a little more, something they won’t get from watching all those nice, clean stabbings (with ferraris, models and palm trees in the background) in all those ubiquitous crime dramas that stodge up the schedules.

I’m still thinking about Pan’s Labyrinth a few hours after watching it. In a strange way, particularly for a magical fantasy/horror (however you want to describe it) it’s the most ‘real’ film I’ve seen in a while. I recommend it. I thought it was brilliantly realised and involving. It didn’t make me feel good but I did enjoy it. I’m not sure I came away glad or sorry at the end. Maybe that’s the sign of a great film…. you tell me.

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