10 Years: “Pan’s Labyrinth”

The thing with time and films is that some film’s need longer gaps between viewings. It’s the only way that what made them special in the first place remains in tact. Watching a given film over and over each year, while no doubt fun, might have the adverse effect of reducing what makes the film so incredibly unique. Going on certain trips may no longer be fun or magical, but routine and boring. If that’s the case, why bother at all?

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “Pan’s Labyrinth”, is a gorgeous multilayered film that finds balance in all that it does, all while delivering a thoroughly captivating story.

This fantasy war film stars Sergi López (“Orphan”, “The Next Skin”), Maribel Verdú (“The Lighthouse of the Whales”, “The Tip of the Iceberg”), Ivana Baquero (“The Shannara Chronicles”, “Gelo”), Álex Angulo (“Hidden Away”, “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang”), Ariadna Gil (“L’altra frontera”, “Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed”), and Doug Jones (upcoming “The Bye Bye Man”, “Ouija: Origin of Evil”).

The film was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (“Trollhunters”, “Crimson Peak”).

The film originally opened on Dec. 29, 2006 in a limited capacity and eventually opened wide on Jan. 19, 2007. The film would go on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, winning three, one Golden Globe Award, and eight BAFTA Awards, winning three among several other wins and nominations.

It’s been 10 years! Not only do we get to celebrate that, but this film saw itself become part of the Criterion Collection. What a way to celebrate this achievement! I for one am super excited. More so than for this film than any other this week. I saw it once, probably a decade ago, certainly eight years ago, and instantly fell in love with it. Everything about it just amazed me and captivated me. I couldn’t look away and knew that this film was something special. While I’m more disappointed in myself for not having taken a few more opportunities to see this film again, I’m glad that it’s been so long. I could go in with pretty fresh eyes, and virtually have no expectations. It’s a rarity with films, especially one as memorable as this one.

Key to being memorable isn’t so much the film’s story, but the characters contained with in it. More specifically the creatures that inhabit this fantastical world Baquero finds herself drawn to. Along with the creatures, it must be said, there’s also just the world itself and all elements associated with it. Here they don’t just bring to life a dark fantasy world, sometimes almost a nightmare, but a lot of detail and beauty can be had too.

While I’d always maintained a pretty good idea of what the Faun and the Pale Man looked like, I was somehow surprised by their appearances. The giant toad was also surprising as was the detail to the maze, the arch, and the tree among other things. The amount of detail, which led to a strong sense of realism, was nothing short of breathtaking. I could only stare when Faun came on the screen and started speaking and moving. If I hadn’t been so far from the screen, I would’ve tried reaching out and touching him. This detail and dark atmosphere, also created out of the very creative creature designs, allowed for there to even be a sense of danger. Faun, as gentle as he is, had a bit of a menacing feel, which could easily be attributed to his impressive height, but could also be to his fingers, legs, and even horns.

My favorite creature, and arguably the most memorable, stems from an even more memorable scene. The Pale Man. He’s introduced, and even though he’s sitting, not really knowing Baquero’s even there, he’s gross looking, disturbing really, and menacing. I couldn’t help but take in every aspect of the corridor she walked down and then the big room with a table full of food and drink. You’d think the Pale Man had gotten lost and that some sort of royal family should be dining there instead. With this one scene, no longer than 10 minutes, you not only get to witness beauty and a grotesque and finely detailed creation, but you get to be afraid. There’s suspense, and for a moment, in this fantasy realm, there’s actual danger, which would’ve really turned the film upside down. To me, it signals that even in fantasy, there’s good and bad forces at work. Credit must go to Jones, who not only (probably) sat in makeup for both the Faun and the Pale Man, but created such different characters, largely through movement. Each is as far away from the other, it’s almost surprising they weren’t played by two different actors.

Watching the film again, I knew I could enjoy it for the simple and straightforward story it told. Seeing the multiple plots coming and going and intersecting, before finally converging together and delivering a satisfying end. However, along the way, it was hard not to notice some things stand out. No, not characters or sets or some other aspect like that, but themes. Themes are no stranger when it comes to fantasy films.

Escape, for me, is the big theme. Primary one. There’s the literal escape we see, but also a longing, mainly from Braquero’s Ofelia. She’s a young girl who lost her father, and is being forced to relocate all because of her mother’s new husband. Then, as we first see, he’s not the most friendly or kind person. Who wouldn’t want to escape there. This is also during a pretty violent time in the country, where everything’s so dark and scary. For a small child, I can imagine, this would definitely require some sort of escape. For Ofelia, she gets it from stories, be they in her books or ones she makes up and tells her unborn brother. I find that it’s also what makes it so easy for her to believe the Faun when he tells her she’s the reincarnated spirit of a princess. She needs something that’s just for her. Something that makes sense and can distract her from her new unasked for life. This need for escape, also manifests itself in the literal need to get away from López’s cruel Captain Vidal, which is incidentally where we find escape for Verdú and all the other rebels. While this one’s more literal, it’s still a strong way to connect all three stories.

I also found, and this truly could be me, but it speaks to the larger idea that with one film anyone can pull something out, be it the same or something different, that innocence is a theme. In this dark, dark world, there’s got to be some sort of light which guides viewers and even the characters. Which could be why the central character is a young girl. Through this, you’re able to connect with Baquero and somewhat understand her actions, even when they’re the wrong ones. If other themes exist, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least, I wasn’t able to pick them up. I wasn’t on the look out for them, which is alright by me as what’s immediately before you and interpreted, should be enough. From that alone, anyone can learn so much.

A note on the human characters. They’re each so different and there’s so much to love and admire about each. Great performances wasn’t the only thing that informed each actor do what they needed to do. Directing, but especially writing. What del Toro provided, much like themes, goes beyond the individual specific storylines each one has.

Baquero for instance, is infused with so much loyalty and love, that it’s not difficult to feel for her beyond having a horrible stepfather. She loves her mother so much and just wants to make her proud. It’s also how Verdú is also able to develop a deep connection, that goes beyond the fact that she’s helping to care for a little girl. Verdú also benefits from what her character’s purpose is, which is to stop López and his men. She certainly gets many kick ass moments and shows she’s got a lot of natural intelligence and independence. López, well, he’s the villain. You just hate him. But, he does it so well, that there’s something there that must be recognized and applauded. However, unlike with the other characters, who aren’t evil, it’s harder for me to find his motivations and even slightly understand them. That, sadly, lies I with the fact that I don’t have any kind of base knowledge for the time period and what happened before in Spain.

When given enough time, a film can repeatedly remind us why it’s so good and why we like it so much. The ability to be amazed is one of the things I love about film, but isn’t always there. As a film ages, it’s even harder to predict if these elements will remain true, as so many other films have no doubt benefited from some sort of technological advance or filmmaking approach, that makes a finely made film look inferior. The only thing to do then, keep watching and keep being amazed and inspired. It’s how this film will live on.

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