February 27, 2007

Dark Labyrinths

Pan’s Labyrinth, although unable to secure the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, walked away with this year’s Oscars in Cinematography, Art Direction, and Makeup. Guillermo Del Toro’s creation is a complex mix of grim reality and a girl’s stunningly filmed fantastic dream. The film takes place in Franco’s Spain, where Ophelia, an imaginative child, is the daughter of a woman whose husband has died in the Spanish Civil War. Her mother remarries a Fascist general whom Ophelia refuses to call "Papa" and is expecting a child assumed to be male. Ophelia is offered a chance to escape life in the old creaking house where the general has set up base when a winged creature leads her down secret pathways to meet a faun, who explains that she is a princess and must complete a series of tests to prove her place in an immortal world. This alternate reality is filmed in vivid blues and possesses a cast of well-imagined characters. The real and fantastic worlds mingle and overlap, producing heart-wrenching, thought-provoking plot results. The film is much more cerebral than trailers and previews dominated by the fantasy portion would lead prospective viewers to believe.

The first mental flash I got while watching this film was how it seems to be answering to a dark strand in the Spanish film tradition. Little Ophelia, imaginative, unconventional, and lost in a world beyond the confines of sober reality, reminds us of Ana, the dreamy center of Carlos Saura’s 1976 masterpiece, Cria Cuervos. Although Saura’s classic doesn’t portray a detailed fantastic labyrinth, it experiments with time and imagination, and shows that Ana is out of the ordinary and possesses otherworldly qualities. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, Cria Cuervos is a reflection on everyday life during the Spanish Civil War, although it takes place in a city far from the actual fighting that Pan’s Labyrinth unabashedly showcases. The relationship between the child, mother, and distant father figure is important in both these projects. The most prominent similarity is a wonderstruck, mysterious child who looks to break past the monotony and horror of the present, is endowed with the powers of judgment and connection with greater realities, and is a quiet force to be reckoned with. Del Toro plays with magical realism and cinematic effects while delving into mythology to make the leap from Ana’s quiet world to Ophelia’s perilous journey, but core elements cause one message to underlie both experiments.

No comments: