del Toro

Pan’s Labyrinth

Watching Pan’s Labyrinth the thing that catches your fancy the most is how a children fantasy and a horrific war are intermingled as a matter of fact thing without ever burdening one thing with the other and also never losing anyone’s relevance. Guillermo del Toro here takes his craft another level up from where he left in The Devil’s Backbone. The plot here moves in two directions, on one side there is a fantastic ancient fantasy unfolding and on the other side is a local resistance in a countryside against a fascist regiment with the setting taking place in Spanish Civil war. Unlike The Devil’s Backbone both the plots here are unrelated(though not altogether) to each other saving a character Ofilia who is central to both and is totally immersed in her fantasy world quite oblivious of the war.

Ofilia is a 11 year old girl who loves reading fantasy stories and moves with a pile of books with her, who arrives with her pregnant mother at a countryside place where her step father Captain Vidal, a ruthless fascist, is trying to crush local resistance. There Ofelia meets a fairy which leads her to an ancient labyrinth and then to a Faun who recognizes her as Princess Moanna, heiress of an underground world where her father and her kingdom waits for her. But in order to return there she will be required to perform three difficult tasks. The Faun then presents her a book and her adventurous journey begins.

The movie scores heavily in the alluring and spellbinding fantasy world that it creates. All the fantasy characters are amazingly original and awe inspiring. Be it The goat faced Faun, The Pale man, The mandrake root or The giant toad, all the creatures here marvel with finest detail and enticing charm.

The enchanting fantasy world is evenly matched with the brutally gruesome war. Captain Vidal here is a perfect personification of fascism. Some scenes there actually are quite unwatchable as far children are concerned. There’s a scene in which Vidal uses a bottle and ruthlessly plains out the elevation of a man’s nose. In another scene after his mouth had been slit open he stitches it up and then applies a bandage, and then takes a shot of brand only to get his bandage wet first with alcohol and then blood.

One of the most important theme of Toro’s work(Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone) is parallel portrayal of the fear of real and the unreal(fantasies , stories, metaphors et al.). And how fear inflicted by real life situations is much more grotesque than the unreal and how embracing the unreal makes us more stronger to face the reality. It just here some how reminds me of few lines from Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami, which go as :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”

Cutting it short here Pan’s Labyrinth is a great work of cinema both cinematically as well as in relation to the themes it carries. A must watch.
See the movie site here and catch here a post on mine on The Devil’s Backbone.

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The Devil’s Backbone

Ghost stories are never scary. They do have few moments of fright and horror but nothing more and rest all is violence, gore and loud screams. And most of it is the fear of the characters which some how movie makers feel that the viewer’s will feel too. yeah no doubt we humans have the uncanny tendency to sway with emotions of others but somehow fear is too internal, too personal a thing to go along like that. And Guillermo del Toro does well to avoid all these.

The Devil’s backbone is a story set in an Orphanage, against the back drop of Spanish civil war. Carlos, whose father has died and is left with a tutor who also abandons him, lands at the orphanage. As the story progress amidst minor scuffles between Carlos and other children, Carlos learns about ‘the one who sighs’. A shabby looking building, dusty surrounding, semi-dark indoors, basements with muddy pools and a unexploded 10 feet high bomb in the courtyard all add to fantastic atmosphere, though nothing is overdone as to make them look scary. The ghost here is quite interestingly shown, as he moves there’s a semi liquid air around him where blood droplets float and also there’s a wound on his forehead which flows regularly acting as a source of all those droplets.

As the story progress with Carlos frequently seeing the dead orphan, which all other’s can sometimes hear or seem to, Del toro also focuses on the Old lady headmaster who’s a widow but is having an secret affair with Jacinth, who works there and is also a an orphan from the same orphanage, though he detests this part of his life and is waiting to clear his hand on the gold which the Lady headmaster has save in the name of the Orphanage. Also in the story is old Dr. Casares who’s quite fond of Carlos and also is a past lover of the Lady headmaster, though the old flame still burns deep.

Tension builds as The ghost frequents its visits and diverts also as Jacinth reveals his true face but then this not so obvious focus on scare is the scoring line of the movie.

Movie ends with Casares’s following words as he himself turns into a ghost:
What is a ghost?
A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again?
An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive.
An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.