Pan's Labyrinth

For the past few months an astonishing variety of people have been telling me that there is a movie called Pan's Labyrinth I had to go see. They said it was exactly my kind of movie, a surreal sort of fairy tale, directed by a genius and I should see it the very first chance I got. So off I went last weekend, expecting one thing and ended up seeing something very different. Don't get me wrong, it was a fairy tale of sorts and it was somewhat surreal but it was also a brutal war story set in 1944, after the Spanish Civil War and involves the clash of a sadistic, fascist captain and some members of the resistance fighting for, well, what the resistance often fights for, their lives, their freedom and the salvation of their homeland.

I've realized, as I struggled to write this column that I'm not going to be able to do an adequate job. There are some things that just don't translate well from one medium to another. A poem may work as a painting but then again it may fall apart. That's what happens when I try and talk about this film. It works so perfectly and splendidly as a film, a seamless blending of words and pictures, that any attempt to pin it down to a few hundred words with no pictures is doomed to failure.

I could talk about how two very different stories, the one about the little girl called Ofelia who meets first a fairy then a faun and is trying to complete three tasks before the full moon so she can return to her father's kingdom under the ground, and the one about the spying, treachery, violence, torture and obsession that goes on as the captain tries to destroy the rebels, are intercut so perfectly that both stories are equally important, frightening and filled with suspense. I could talk about how the trailer makes you think the story is mostly fairy tale and doesn't prepare you for the shockingly graphic battle scenes but I would fail miserably.

Or I could talk about the look of the film, dark yet lush, with some extraordinary creature effects. I could tell you how the thing with the eyes in its hands (which you can see in this trailer) is one of the creepiest things I've ever seen on film or in nightmare. Or how queer it looks when a stick insect thing transforms itself to look more Ofelia's idea of a fairy. Or how wonderfully the faun is done, extremely spookily, weirdly inorganic, yet oddly compelling. But talking about it doesn't do it justice, doesn't give you a real sense of the beautiful yet gritty feel of the entire film.

I could tell you how splendid the acting is, how I never saw anyone put a foot wrong and how well everyone portrayed their characters, to the point where I was cheering when something bad happened to the Really Really Bad Man.

I could tell you that this film is up for six Oscars, including best foreign film and that I think it should get best film because in a global economy designations like "foreign" just sound silly. Or how it is up for a Golden Globe and eight BAFTA the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) masks. Or how it won the Critics' Choice Award and just this week picked up seven Goya awards. But even all those glittery prizes might not mean much to you because if you're like many people of my acquaintance "award winning film" often means "dreary and sad film." Pan's Labyrinth is awfully sad in parts but it's anything but dreary.

Perhaps the only things I can say adequately are these few statements. This film absolutely deserves its R rating. Some of the violence was too graphic for me, I had to cover my eyes and get my seventeen-year-old son to tell me when it was safe to look at the screen again. Despite the fact that the story is ostensibly about an 11-year-old girl it's emphatically not a children's movie. You should waste no time, you should go and see it right away. (When we went my middle son ran into a friend of his was seeing it for the second time.) And finally if you have any interest in behind the scenes odds and ends you should check out the website. You can find all kinds of things there including the entire script, translated into English, interviews with the director, sketches, avatars and a host of other free stuff.

One-Sentence Review

This week's one-sentence review is from an annoyed reader who has this to say about the Fox television show Bones, "A terrible, stupid, condescending show that appears to have been written for an obscure audience of four-year-olds who are obsessed with forensic science." Have you got a one-sentence review? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at