551, 666, 838 Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#76 Post by Nothing » Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:55 am

Pan's Labryinth seems to me to be further evidence of the infantilisation of cinema. Who is this film for, exactly? It would be a decent film for older kids, with its child protagonist, fantasy scenes, simplistic/manipulative characterisations and playschool politics - but then there are the outbursts of Irreversible-esque violence which put paid to that idea. So for whom? The same audience that watches a film like Hellboy, I guess... That this thing was selected for Cannes and is playing in arthouse cinemas... Well I don't even want to think about it, really...

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#77 Post by exte » Wed Feb 21, 2007 1:23 am

Was it that kind of prejudice that Spielberg faced with The Color Purple and Schindler's List, for having made Jaws and E.T.?

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#78 Post by soma » Wed Feb 21, 2007 1:43 am

Nothing wrote:Pan's Labryinth seems to me to be further evidence of the infantilisation of cinema. Who is this film for, exactly? It would be a decent film for older kids, with its child protagonist, fantasy scenes, simplistic/manipulative characterisations and playschool politics - but then there are the outbursts of Irreversible-esque violence which put paid to that idea. So for whom? The same audience that watches a film like Hellboy, I guess... That this thing was selected for Cannes and is playing in arthouse cinemas... Well I don't even want to think about it, really...

Hellboy? Oh please, because they were directed by the same director?

So adults can't enjoy fantasy? Fantasy is only meant for children? Is that what you're saying?! I for one hope that at 60 years of age I will still have the ability to appreciate film and art of this nature. For shame, it's people like you that give birth to the death of imagination...

And after reading your comments in the Antonioni Red Desert thread I find it interesting that if nothing else you can't at least appreciate the sound design in this film, being a "professional sound designer". As with The Devil's Backbone, Del Toro's use of sound is remarkable... the acute nature of his sounds ricochet and reverberate in the most sensically pleasing way... the brush of a piece of bark, creaking metal, dripping water, a footstep in mud, the flapping of a bug's wings, a gunshot, a ghost... it's awesome. Both visually and aurally he knows how to create a permeating sense of atmosphere like few others working today. Bong Joon-Ho (Memories Of Murder, The Host) is another director of this nature that springs to mind.

Thanks for sharing your oh-so-eloquent and poignant reasoning for the dismissal of this film. The real irony is the juvenile mindset you've offered is in direct hypocrisy to your point of view.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#79 Post by Antoine Doinel » Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:45 am

Michael wrote:
The stutterer was utterly pointless, for example.
And I was also thinking about that captain shaving. We get not one shot but three or four shots of that littered throughout the film. I couldn't figure out why Del Toro bothered with that. There has to be something important to those shaving shots because each one goes on for more than at least 30 seconds. Am I missing something?
I think Del Toro intentionally showed the repeated shots of the shaving and the woman hiding the knife in her apron to show the passage of another day. The device also works well in a fairy tale sense because often in fables and nursery rhymes specific lines or details are repeated over and over again because they will become important later on. I thought it was a very nice touch.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#80 Post by Michael » Wed Feb 21, 2007 11:33 am

I think Del Toro intentionally showed the repeated shots of the shaving and the woman hiding the knife in her apron to show the passage of another day. The device also works well in a fairy tale sense because often in fables and nursery rhymes specific lines or details are repeated over and over again because they will become important later on. I thought it was a very nice touch.
Yeah, that came through clearly the second time I watched Pan's. The second viewing made the film completely different for me in a remarkable way.

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#81 Post by lord_clyde » Wed Feb 21, 2007 6:07 pm

A remarkable modern fairy tale that was nothing like I expected it to be. I was taken aback by the brutality of the captain (I thought it was rated PG for some reason) and the fact that the film is not a straight on, all out fantasy.
As the credits started to roll (as well as a single tear) my friend seated next to me loudly exclaimed "I need to wash that crap down with some Spielberg."
Needless to say, I was stunned that such a powerful film did not resonate with him the same way it did with me.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#82 Post by Nothing » Thu Feb 22, 2007 3:43 am

Infantile / childlike in that there are no shades of grey, let alone any moral ambiguity. It is indeed very Spielbergian in this sense. All the major protagonists are either very 'good' or very 'bad', and the nature of each character is heavy-handedly signposted within moments. eg. We know within 5 seconds that Mercedes and the Doctor are working with the rebels and that one or other of them will meet a sticky end in the service of their higher principals, just as we know that the Captain is the devil incarnate and will eventually meet his comeupance. Meanwhile, the wide-eyed-young-girl-with-an-imagination Ofelia is just a rote, unconvincing shell of a central character that we have seen a million times before. As for the sound design / music / cinematography, these are pure Hollywood - proficient, slick and deeply unimaginative.

This would all matter less if the film were more honest in its intentions. As I say, with the gore toned down, it would make for a reasonably decent, mindless family film. The (brief) sequence with the hand-eye creature is almost good!..

If you think about it, though, Miyazaki treads similar ground in MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO with so much more imagination, grace, honesty and emotional subtlety...

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#83 Post by godardslave » Thu Feb 22, 2007 4:31 am

I saw this last weekend. Disappointing. This is an average war film with the child/fantasy subtext tacked on in a vain attempt to make the film seem more deep or intelligent than it actually is.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#84 Post by che-etienne » Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:54 am

Michael wrote:
I think Del Toro intentionally showed the repeated shots of the shaving and the woman hiding the knife in her apron to show the passage of another day. The device also works well in a fairy tale sense because often in fables and nursery rhymes specific lines or details are repeated over and over again because they will become important later on. I thought it was a very nice touch.
Yeah, that came through clearly the second time I watched Pan's. The second viewing made the film completely different for me in a remarkable way.
I would agree, but both those details express character as well.

Mercedes is a survivor, always prepared and preparing for the worst. She's learned to employ a kind of guerrilla tactics and/or espionage if you will as the insider at the camp. The knife-apron motif is I think expressive of this.

I'd say that the captain's act of shaving is expressive of his masochistic pride and vanity, and more generally of the psychological anomie fascistic ideology engenders in the male self. In a world of cogs and wheels (hence the setting of the lair in the bowels of the house), where everything is tuned to precision, where men count the seconds to their deaths and measure their life accordingly, the only outcome is self-destruction and self-made apocalypse, which is of course in some sense what happens by the film's end. The fact that the scene recurs, both times cued by the phonograph spinning into motion, reinforces the analogy of a downward spiral. The watch unwinding itself.

Not to mention, Del Toro just loves gadgetry I think, which is part of the visual wonder on display in this film. The kitchen knife, the watch, the vials of morphine, the piece of chalk, the box of fairies, the doctor's box of tools etc - most of these connected to a character, informing our knowledge of them, some connected with each other as parallel motifs, and some serving simply to move the plot along.

And just to throw in my two cents. I think this was the finest film of the year. I've come to this conclusion after two viewings, and would urge those who had doubts or were disappointed to give it another go. I definitely had my doubts after the first screening. I was tired at the time, and had also just gone on for a two-week stretch of non-stop movie-going. When I watched it again, in a more lucid state of mind, everything clicked. On the other hand, it may also be that the film is just somewhat hard to take-in on a single viewing. I don't mean that it's particularly hard to follow or difficult to understand, but that really I feel Del Toro has done something quite rare. Films like this only come about one every year. He has crafted what I feel is a film that functions at the level of high art, and at once at the level of classic, Hollywood storytelling. And if at first it seems superficial or too pretty, I feel when one looks a little deeper it really reveals itself a cut above the rest. This film certainly shouldn't be pigeon-holed into the high-school/college cult group (e.g. "Amelie")

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#85 Post by chaddoli » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:42 pm

would urge those who had doubts or were disappointed to give it another go
I appreciate this but I'd rather see INLAND EMPIRE for a third time. Given that I have indeed only seen this once, I honestly don't get the praise, as to me it was thoroughly mediocre. Sincere, certainly, and with some dazzling images, but I was very bored. I thought Hellboy was a lot better.

EDIT: And that's not to say I love Hellboy. Weren't you bored by the stepfather's one-notery? The lazy melding of the fantasy and reality stories? I liked the girl, but...

I'm not trying to be an asshole, this film just left be totally cold. I was rooting for it but I got nothing.
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#86 Post by John Cope » Thu Feb 22, 2007 7:31 pm

chaddoli wrote: I honestly don't get the praise, as to me it was thoroughly mediocre. Sincere, certainly, and with some dazzling images, but honestly, I was very bored. I thought Hellboy was a lot better.
Heresy indeed, chaddoli, at least on this board. Nonetheless, I thoroughly concur.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#87 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Thu Feb 22, 2007 8:50 pm

lord_clyde wrote:As the credits started to roll (as well as a single tear) my friend seated next to me loudly exclaimed "I need to wash that crap down with some Spielberg.".
I had a similiar experience with a friend of mine who took one look at my melancholy face after the film ended and barked, "How could you be manipulated by such cliched trash?" I couldn't answer, I was so overwhelmed emotionally by this film that I couldn't think of an appropriate reply to my remarkably cynical friend. I simply shrugged my shoulders and we left. Call me pathetic, call me easily manipulated, call me what you will, I love this film and it was perhaps my favorite cinema going experience of 2006.

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#88 Post by Nothing » Sat Feb 24, 2007 6:07 am

che-etienne wrote:a film that functions at the level of high art
In what way? Please cite examples. How is the film not morally simplistic, with hollow, cartoonishly drawn characters and a base Hollywood aesthetic? How does it not simply appeal to a conversative mainstream audience who would nevertheless like to believe they have taste (it should be a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in this regard...)?

If you want to see an art film from 2006 on the subjects of human barbarity, war and fantasy I would suggest you watch Dumont's FLANDRES...

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#89 Post by Antoine Doinel » Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:08 pm

Nothing wrote:
che-etienne wrote:a film that functions at the level of high art
In what way? Please cite examples. How is the film not morally simplistic, with hollow, cartoonishly drawn characters and a base Hollywood aesthetic?
Morally simplistic? I believe Del Toro has made it perfectly clear the film is supposed to be a fable. Just a cursory glance at any of Grimm's fairy tales or Bible stories and you're not going find a morally ambiguous world.

I'm not really sure were you are getting this "Hollywood aesthetic" from, but if you can point out any other Hollywood films that are both relentlessly grim, yet strikingly beautiful I'd like to see it. I would also like to see a Hollywood executive allow Pan's Labyrinth to end the way it did.

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#90 Post by Bajaja » Sat Feb 24, 2007 2:48 pm

Just a little tangential piece of trivia, which is probably coincidental (hopefully): Julie Taymor placed the blind prophet Tiresias's eyeballs in his palms already in 1992 - in the most wonderful adaptation of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex ever committed to celluloid.

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#91 Post by toiletduck! » Sat Feb 24, 2007 2:54 pm

Tangentially speaking, it also occurs (along with examples in other films, I'm sure) in Miike's The Great Yokai War.

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#92 Post by lord_clyde » Sat Feb 24, 2007 3:42 pm

Antoine Doinel wrote:Morally simplistic? I believe Del Toro has made it perfectly clear the film is supposed to be a fable.
My friend had a problem with the scene where Ofelia eats the grapes. He couldn't understand how anyone could be so stupid. I likened it to Adam and Eve or Icarus flying too close to the sun, but he shot it down with a "No, that bitch is just stupid."

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#93 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Feb 24, 2007 8:31 pm

lord_clyde wrote:
Antoine Doinel wrote:Morally simplistic? I believe Del Toro has made it perfectly clear the film is supposed to be a fable.
My friend had a problem with the scene where Ofelia eats the grapes. He couldn't understand how anyone could be so stupid. I likened it to Adam and Eve or Icarus flying too close to the sun, but he shot it down with a "No, that bitch is just stupid."
As much as I hate to validate your friend's reaction, I'd have to agree with him. With both Adam and Eve and Icarus there is a clear motivation and a moral content to their act. Eve eats the apple because Satan, high-trickster, has conned her into it; this act demonstrates something of human vanity and weakness and has a lasting effect on the relationship between man and the divine. The Icarus myth, at least in Ovid (I haven't yet come across a Greek source), works as a moral tale to demonstrate the outcome of not living in moderation. Anyway, for a man to suddenly forget where he is and what he's doing while experiencing a sublimely joyous act is a nice little comment on the human condition and a pretty clear motivation.

Ofelia, on the other hand, had seemingly no motivation. She was, presumably, not starving (if she was it was pure laziness not to show it); and she had those little fairies around her continually warning her not to eat. There was no reason, and nothing in her own character, to indicate why she would so insolently and deliberately eat those grapes. The eating, yes, contributed to the allegory on two levels: 1. that taking food for ones personal pleasure and luxury will awake the half-blind beast inside fascism, and, 2. links her with the rebels who lose men to torture, ect. by the beast of fascism when they take the food store. Yet the moment does not come out of character; it exists purely because the politics and the allegory require it, which is a major aesthetic weakness.

I find Pan's Labyrinth deeply problematic when I try to understand what relationship it is trying to depict between fantasy and reality. It has been said that these fantasies are a child escaping the brutality of the world, but if you closely watch the film you'll notice that Ofelia never experiences any of the brutality we are shown. The tortures, the beatings, the shootings--she sees none of this. Which means the brutality is meant for us rather than as a motivation for fantasy, and that makes its graphicness morally unsettling.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the graphic violence is supposed to convince us of the reality of the world of the war. But the fact is, the world of the war and Ofelia's world of fauns and fairies are equally fantastical, equally contrived. The 'real' world is constructed out of familiar archetypes: clear villains and heroes and easy morality. An example of its easy morality is Ofelia's mother, potentially the most complex character in the film. She hints at her struggles in life, that it was not easy for her, and indicates that she has married for very complex reasons involving survival and the suppression of desire and eros. This, however, is never explored, and the film condemns her for her marriage. Pan's Labyrinth implies that, by marrying a fascist, she cannot be a good mother for Ofelia, and so the film supplies Ofelia with a surrogate, a more caring figure who is of course wholly on the rebels side. This is the kind of easy judgement the film uses in its "real" segments. The only sympathy for Ofelia's mother comes from Ofelia herself, but the movie never indicates that we are to share it (our sympathies are clearly with the surrogate mother).

So the division between "reality" and "fantasy" is an aesthetic nightmare. Nevertheless, let us proceed on the assumption that one is still "reality" (even if it does not try very hard to be so). What then does the film tell us about fantasy? I was struck by the lackluster quality of Ofelia's imaginings. Usually a fantasy world, especially a quest fantasy like this one, has a great deal of weight and importance behind it. There is always the sense that the hero's actions matter. In Pan's Labyrinth we are given a myth in which there is no importance; the return of the princess signals nothing except maybe the contentment of a couple of characters we will never meet. Ofelia's fantasies are strangely inconsequential, and are unable to give meaning or importance to the world.

We are left with the sense that Ofelia's fantasy is useless against the reality of the world. It gave no comfort, no meaning, and it did not help protect her, if she indeed needed it (the film suggests she did not, that there were always people there to protect her if she had but reached out to someone outside of her constructed reality). Her fantasies gave her only the hope of a comfort that was never really to come, and led her to her death after a series of unsatisfying errands. And her fantasies never insulated her against the world because they never shut the world out, or began to overlap and bleed into it. They only impressed themselves on her in a few quiet moments when the rest of the world seemed dormant. And unless death is counted as a great freedom (which I will suggest below the film almost implies), she never really gains anything beyond perhaps saving her brother (although you never get the sense he was in any danger). Ultimately, her fantasies offer her only a moment of pleasant delusion as she slips into death; they does not alter the world, nor do they change or protect or validate her. They were, for the most part, useless to her, since they blocked the possible good in her life as well as the bad. Really, the whole nature of the fantasy was to lead her out of the world altogether, of which the corresponding moment in reality is her death. That leaves the unhealty taste of advocating death since it is linked to the precise moment of her acheiving her imagined apotheosis. Or, conversely, we are to believe that such innocence as Ofelia's cannot survive in the world of fascism, in which case her fantasies become even more irrelevant since they indicate a kind of losing battle.

So we're left with a very grim movie that does not actually seem to affirm the importance of fantasy. Certainly her moral validation at the end rings hollow since there is never any doubt of Ofelia's innocence and moral clarity.

But, of course, the "reality" of the movie is a fantasy anyway that unsuccessfully uses brutality to convince you of its realism. So it's rather hard to take meaning from the movie (outside of its obvious political lessons). The whole thing feels awkward and didactic; it never feels sublime.

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#94 Post by che-etienne » Sun Feb 25, 2007 2:44 am

Nothing wrote:
che-etienne wrote:a film that functions at the level of high art
In what way? Please cite examples. How is the film not morally simplistic, with hollow, cartoonishly drawn characters and a base Hollywood aesthetic? How does it not simply appeal to a conversative mainstream audience who would nevertheless like to believe they have taste (it should be a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in this regard...)?

If you want to see an art film from 2006 on the subjects of human barbarity, war and fantasy I would suggest you watch Dumont's FLANDRES...
Great moral complexity does not necessarily make great cinema. Cinema is not wholly circumscribed within a realm of simply moral and immoral considerations. Furthermore, the moral simplicity of a film itself should not be confused with that of the situation it depicts. Simply put, the work need not have complex characterization to attain the status of high art. In fact to make that argument, we would have to eliminate many a great early film from consideration altogether. In the "Passion of Joan of Arc" or "Nosferatu" is there any question as to who the good guys and bad guys are? Indeed, in one essay, Adrian Piotrovsky championed typage as one of the silent film's key devices, and I would make the argument that typage is not only still employed frequently, but often to great effect, as in the film in question.

Frankly, the idea that a film has to have moral weight to raise it a cut above the rest allows Hollywood cinema to maintain a firm grip on the debate of a film's worth. Essentially, one is still proceeding from what is or isn't Hollywood, rather than what makes a good film. It's tantamount to saying that to be an important filmmaker, one has to make films that confront 'important issues'. And what this train of thought leads us to is the ridiculous notion that the cinema should in fact not entertain. Thus, Kael in her famous essay on "Kane" writes against this notion; she contends that no masterpiece is made because of its complexity (and this is not to say I agree with her about that specific film).

As for a "Hollywood aesthetic", if you mean that "Pan's" follows a three act story structure and focuses on getting one character from point a to point b, I agree, but I fail to see how Del Toro's form can in any way be pegged with such an ambiguous label. Film scholars can't even seem to agree what defines modern Hollywood style these days... so how is this a valid rubric?

Giving this comment the benefit of the doubt, however, I'll try to list some things Del Toro would have had to have jettisoned or altered to make the film conform to this "Hollywood aesthetic" you seem so concerned about.

First of all, Ofelia hardly talks and she's the main character of the film. She does very little outside of her own fantasies, and never engages in the same struggles as those around her. She does not wage any mini domestic battle against her surrogate father. In fact, she hardly interacts with him, and is on the whole rather indifferent to the greater conflict that engulfs this world. She also doesn't have as much screen time as the usual protagonist would have, and for a portion of the second act we're mainly focused on the trials of Mercedes and the resistance fighters. Even when she's off in her world of fantasy, a great deal of time is spent watching her wander around it or listening to the faun give her instructions than actually completing her tasks, which do not involve much dynamism or action anyway. To put it bluntly, she is a pretty inactive protagonist, who is too emotionally innocent and immature to interpret correctly or react logically to the events in which she is circumscribed.

She simply doesn't do much. I would say that most Hollywood cinema, however, chooses main characters that are far more active and involved in the events around them.

Following what we briefly went over regarding Ophelia's character, we can conclude too that it would be unreasonable to peg the girl's fantasies as the escapist reveries of a frightened and traumatized little girl, since she is too immature to properly understand the events, though this is not to say that escapism and trauma do not have anything to do with these fantasies. Indeed, the film is actually rather ambiguous with regards both the causal underpinnings of the girl's fantasies and their presentation in and of itself. We're never sure as to whether this fantasy is a good or bad thing. The faun is an altogether untrustworthy character, both in manner and action. And the toad scene, for instance has a strangely sensual atmosphere, employing even sexual signifiers, one being her stripping before she enters the tree.

Now, I argue that modern Hollywood cinema in the main shies away from any sort of ambiguity, and it seems that you share this view. When dealing for instance with risque or what might be called 'adult content' either in theme or subject matter, the generic Hollywood film, which I guess in our definition is synonymous to the generic bad film, prefers a direct and often sensational approach. So facile sexual innuendo replaces sexual ambiguity, and pornography replaces eroticism. In short, all the thematic and emotional content is externalized, displayed and even forced down the audience's throats. Now, given the formal aspects we've visited - that Ofelia is actually not very clearly characterized, that the fantasy world is not given clear boundaries, that there is a certain moral ambiguity to its whole presentation - I think many Hollywood execs would have had a problem with the film. Here, it is also helpful to note that we do not return to Ofelia's fantasy for nearly whole of the latter half of the second act, since she has broken 'the rules'. Thus, that the film actually departs from what most execs would've placed as the most exciting part of the work does not recommend it either.

As has already been noted, the ending is not exactly an upper. I believe it was Hoberman who said it was one of the most uncompromising endings of the year, and I would agree. So all this taken into consideration, I'm not sure that the film isn't completely unambiguous, nor am I sure how in line it is with Hollywood standards of character development, narrative flow, and story resolution as any exec would like.

Finally, we should also take into consideration the genre the film has chosen for itself. It is not simply fantasy, but more closely a fable or parable. It claims to deal with general and universal ideas and archetypes, rather than particulars and subtleties, which is most certainly not to say that the film is without depth or somehow simplistic. Thus, to dismiss it as lacking strong, complex characters is somewhat narrow-minded when it doesn't claim to. I would also argue that a stereotype is different from an archetype, and that far from the captain or Ofelia being some generalized caricature of a particular, they are figures representative of forces within us all. This province of the universal is that which the film has chosen. Any criticism of the film, positive or negative should I think proceed from this point, if it is to have any weight.

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#95 Post by Bajaja » Sun Feb 25, 2007 12:50 pm

Mr_sausage, very nice. Thanks for so eloquently formulating my own thoughts. I was going to respond to lord_clyde's posting (I share his friend's feelings), but I don't need to anymore. You are absolutely right, all the predestined tragedies of the ancient Greeks (or even those of fables and good fairy tales) did not lack psychological motivations. In contrast, Ofelia's thoughtless grabbing of the grape seemed totally out of character; although it was necessary for del Toro's accomplishing his "big scheme" of the film, thanks to the lack of the girl's motivation I consider it the weakest point, after which the whole narrative became anchorless and on the automatic pilot, so to speak. It was probably at that point that I lost my hope for the film.

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#96 Post by lord_clyde » Sun Feb 25, 2007 5:07 pm

All good points, and I can definitely see where everyone is coming from. Hell, even I am starting to doubt this film.
But what I remember most about the film still stands out strongly in my mind: raw emotional impact. I cannot think of a single scene in the film that did not leave some kind impression on me.
That said, looking back on my first viewing I remember puzzling over the two movies I saw that night. One about a brutal captain who is trying to eliminate a rebel faction from the area, and the other about an ancient princess who must accomplish a series of tasks in order to reach her kingdom. The two segments really don't go together, but I let that slide based on the strong visuals (the shot of the fetus that leads into the rose being my favorite), exceptional performances, and my own emotional reaction.
But what does it all mean? I am forced to agree with previous posters that there does not seem to be any reason for the fantasy to exist in this movie, unless it was Del Toro's intention that we take the fantasy scenes at face value? Why, then, the ambiguity? Why not make it perfectly clear the faun and the fairies are real?
I will have to watch the film again when it hits dvd, I guess.
And thank you Criterionforum, for taking a short dismissive phrase my friend said and turning it into detailed, eloquent discussions.

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#97 Post by Antoine Doinel » Sun Feb 25, 2007 5:52 pm

lord_clyde wrote:Why, then, the ambiguity? Why not make it perfectly clear the faun and the fairies are real?
Firstly, I just want just want to second the forum for some great discussion on this film.

But, I feel that whether or not the fantasy portion of the film is "real" or not is besides the point. To me, the fantasy portions of the film were representative of the Ofelia's hope and innocence. While much has been made about how Ofelia doesn't experience the war directly, her reality is still harrowing. From the first meeting in which she meets her new "father" (in which he crushes his hand in hers) she is made to feel a stranger at what is ostensibly her new home. Add to that, the fear that the baby coming will kill her mother (or her new "father" will should any complications arise) there is plenty of reason for Ofelia to escape into her fantasy world where she can feel like she has at least some control over what happens. I interpreted her relationship with Mercedes not as a maternal one, but as ally she can turn to in the event she needs some help.

I feel that del Toro's film offers the case that the transition into adulthood requires shedding one's imagination and innocence to a certain degree. Even Mercedes has a conversation with Ofelia at one point in which she tells her she no longer believes in fables and the "father" blames Ofelia's disobedience to her books. The ending of the film is tragic because the cost of Ofelia hanging onto to her innocence and belief is dire, but there is hope in her brother who might find a way to grow up and traverse the adult world while still retaining some of the wide-eyed wonder of being a kid.

che-etienne
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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#98 Post by che-etienne » Sun Feb 25, 2007 5:54 pm

Mr_sausage wrote:Ofelia, on the other hand, had seemingly no motivation. She was, presumably, not starving (if she was it was pure laziness not to show it); and she had those little fairies around her continually warning her not to eat. There was no reason, and nothing in her own character, to indicate why she would so insolently and deliberately eat those grapes. The eating, yes, contributed to the allegory on two levels: 1. that taking food for ones personal pleasure and luxury will awake the half-blind beast inside fascism, and, 2. links her with the rebels who lose men to torture, ect. by the beast of fascism when they take the food store. Yet the moment does not come out of character; it exists purely because the politics and the allegory require it, which is a major aesthetic weakness.
As I noted in response to Nothing, it is made very clear how much a child Ofelia still is, and in fact this aspect of her character is key to the film. She cannot comprehend the world around her, at times indifferent even to her mother's suffering, as is evidenced already in the first scene where she disregards her mother's coughing spell. Ofelia at key moments in the film acts foolishly and rashly, such as when she eagerly opens the book (a third time?) only to find the pages soaking with blood, luridly displaying the pain of her suffering mother in the next room, and suggesting that it is the result of her own selfish negligence. Another example, which I have already used, is her confrontation of the toad, in which she must strip from her dress, only to return to the house covered in mud. This action has consequences upon her mother's standing with the captain, a matter of life and death it seems, which she as a child simply cannot see, and her mother rebukes her. The scene with the thin man is also indicative of this immaturity and foolishness on her part. So I cannot agree that this scene is in any way out of character.

One may be tempted to take a look at Ofelia's face and peg her as 'the innocent girl amidst the sound and fury of the world', but innocence is a double-edged sword, and in my opinion this is partially what the film is talking about. We assume a great deal in saying we know Ofelia and that she has a definable character, when she herself is discovering who she is in the film. When have none of us been tempted to eat forbidden fruit so to speak? By film's end, however, the last task takes place not in the fantastic region of this world, but in the region of the real where she must confront a real demon, and make a decision to determine her maturity. Del Toro has visited this fable narrative before in "Hellboy". Both are about character's who would rather go on living in a region of demons and fairies with reckless abandon, but who must make a more mature choice by the end.
Mr_sausage wrote:I find Pan's Labyrinth deeply problematic when I try to understand what relationship it is trying to depict between fantasy and reality. It has been said that these fantasies are a child escaping the brutality of the world, but if you closely watch the film you'll notice that Ofelia never experiences any of the brutality we are shown. The tortures, the beatings, the shootings--she sees none of this. Which means the brutality is meant for us rather than as a motivation for fantasy, and that makes its graphicness morally unsettling.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the graphic violence is supposed to convince us of the reality of the world of the war. But the fact is, the world of the war and Ofelia's world of fauns and fairies are equally fantastical, equally contrived. The 'real' world is constructed out of familiar archetypes: clear villains and heroes and easy morality.
(This is in response both to your comments above and your later comments about the seemingly insignificant function that fantasy plays in relation to reality.)

I'm not sure one has to watch very closely to notice that Ofelia is not witness to much of the real human suffering that occurs on screen, but she sees enough of her mother's pain in the film and her step-father's strictness to want to withdraw from it, and since we know that she and her mother have faced hard times it is safe to say she has known and perhaps witnessed some suffering. Nevertheless, as I wrote in my last post, I would disagree with those who simply peg her fantasies as serving an escapist utility, and would agree with you when you say the film does not support this reading. But neither does the film claim this reading. It also does not claim that the world it depicts is real, and the violence in the film should therefore not be interpreted in this way.

Indeed, I find it hard to see where you come up with the idea that the violence is meant to somehow shock us into seeing the reality of the world. The fact is the film never draws that much of a distinction between its real and imaginary regions, and by film's end these planes are indeed beginning to lose any boundary. The captain has become a monster, and Ofelia uses the chalk not to enter into another plane, but to escape her own room and enter the captain's own lair. The fact of the matter is we can never be so sure whether the fantastic in this world is simply born of Ofelia or preexists her conscious mind. Many would take the Captain's inability to see the faun as proof that the realm of the fantastic is simply in Ofelia's mind, but the presence of a narrator, whose last line is something akin to "...and she left signs for those who knew where to look", suggests a universe that constitutes both these realms of real and of fantasy - as do the fairies who more often than not come to Ofelia of their own volition, even seeking her out at film's beginning. So though we cannot say that this world is simply fantasy we can neither say it is simply reality, the lines are blurred. The two constitute alternate realms of one universe and mirror-images of one another (see Hoberman who notes the faun's tyranny in comparison to the captain's).

Consequently, Del Toro places equal emphasis upon the fantastic and the real, highlighting neither, but treating the two as equal parts of this one world. We will note that Del Toro does not take any pains to distinguish the fantasy from the reality through formal means. The fluid lateral camera movements and the Goya-esque lighting remain consistent throughout. Additionally, Del Toro makes wonderful use of the hidden wipe to create the feel that the two worlds are part and parcel of one another, or multiple images upon the pages of a storybook, such as when Ofelia narrates the tale of the thorned rose to her mother or when the fascists plunge into the forest as Ofelia is plunging into her fantasy world and into the toad's tree. The film does not claim to be about the distinction between the imaginary and the real, or to give us an historical account of this war, but more correctly confronts the ways in which the real and the imaginary oftentimes become indistinct and how each individual creates his or her own fantasy with which to interpret a harsh reality. The captain who constructs a world of perfectly synchronized watches. Mercedes who constructs a world of hidden caches and secrets. Ofelia who constructs a world of fairies and demons. And of course Del Toro himself who is constructing this whole vision of a world where fantasy and reality are indistinguishable.

In this light, I only quarrel with your interpretation of the film's depictions of violence where you say that it is somehow intended to remind us of the reality of the world of war. Rather violence and pain become a constant of both worlds as parts of a single world. Frankly, I found the sight of the fairies being devoured equally disturbing in comparison to the sight of the man's mangled hand. They are both depicted to maximum visceral effect. And when the captain's face is slashed, it is only one part in a gradual transformation that takes place throughout the film akin to Jack Nicholson's in "The Shining", whereby the captain becomes more and more monstrous, until he is simply a lumbering, drugged beast chasing the girl through the labyrinth. He himself is neither real nor imaginary.
Mr_sausage wrote:An example of its easy morality is Ofelia's mother, potentially the most complex character in the film. She hints at her struggles in life, that it was not easy for her, and indicates that she has married for very complex reasons involving survival and the suppression of desire and eros. This, however, is never explored, and the film condemns her for her marriage. Pan's Labyrinth implies that, by marrying a fascist, she cannot be a good mother for Ofelia, and so the film supplies Ofelia with a surrogate, a more caring figure who is of course wholly on the rebels side. This is the kind of easy judgement the film uses in its "real" segments. The only sympathy for Ofelia's mother comes from Ofelia herself, but the movie never indicates that we are to share it (our sympathies are clearly with the surrogate mother).
I'm not sure where you see the film condemning the mother. She is certainly weak, unhealthy, and unable to provide proper guidance for Ofelia, but this is shown as just as much a symptom of Ofelia's own unreadiness to accept such guidance if not more so, as it is a result of poor motherhood. The mother is never tyrannical towards Ofelia, and there is not one scene in the film that suggests that the mother is forcing anything on her daughter. She is only trying to make the best decisions for her under the circumstances. The problem lies more in that the two cannot relate given that the mother is aware of the realities of their precarious position and Ofelia is not. In the one scene where the two argue and the mother tells Ofelia that her fantasies are simply not real, Del Toro gives us the most tender moment in the film, because it seems that Ofelia realizes at least for a moment that her mother may be right, and pleads that they might leave. The mother is not condemned. She is rather the most heartbreaking and sad figure in the film.

Secondly, Mercedes is never a surrogate mother. She is more akin to a big sister, whom Ofelia often asks questions in confidence as a little sister would seek advice from the elder. The scene where the two are in the attic clearly delineates this sisterly relationship, where Ofelia asks her if she's working with the underground, and says she won't tell anyone, while Mercedes also promises not to tell on Ofelia's own secret fantasies. The two are like sisters covering each other's backs. Both are scared and uncertain, and both are making the best of a near-hopeless situation.
Mr_sausage wrote:So it's rather hard to take meaning from the movie (outside of its obvious political lessons). The whole thing feels awkward and didactic; it never feels sublime.
Much of the backlash of criticism against this film has come I think mostly in response to the first critical acclaim, which liked to tout the film as a political allegory and historical commentary. But "Pan's" is in my view neither of these things. Of course, like any picture, "Pan's" reacts to the images that define our time - what film since 9/11 could have been made before then? - and certain situations in the film reflect those with which we grapple to comprehend. The images of torture are of course the most obvious correlates, but then too are the images of guerrilla warfare. It can be said that the film invokes such imagery self-consciously and with a view to inspiring debate and I might agree, but I see no part of this film, however, that really adds up to the allegorical weight people have placed upon it. We must remember that a film's moral point of view is not also a political one, and that a moral allegory is different from a political allegory.

Before we speculate even that far, however, recall that "Pan's" does not attempt to hide its viewpoint. Everything it is saying about the moral choices we make in our youth is on the surface, so I'm not sure the description 'allegory' works very well. To call it a parable or fable works better, since neither of these suggests the need to decipher the message. Comparing the film to Greek myths and Bible stories is I think equally fallacious, since both these literary genres grew out of specific moral traditions shared by specific communities. "Pan's" on the other hand is not just a piece of cultural media, but a work of art. Del Toro's theology constitutes a mish-mash of different myths and traditions, without aligning itself with a specific one. The moral viewpoint is that of an individual as artist, reacting to the times in which he is engulfed. Thus, "Pan's" may be a parable that invokes a variety of fairytale conventions and contemporary political images, but neither of these defines the film. The picture most certainly has a moral point of view, but its morals and politics only overlap in parts, and to identify what the film says about fascism as some sort of political polemic against current manifestations is gravely misguided.

In summary, the film constructs a two-planed reality, of which the so-called 'world of war' and 'world of fantasy' constitute two halves. At the same time, fantasy manifests itself in both worlds, and is defined less as an escape than a means of control. The Captain, Mercedes, Ofelia - all attempt to keep a grip on their own fates and attain some measure of control on this world, be it a construct that is total and fascistic, individual and self-preservative, or simply explanatory and comprehensive. The choice that must be made is whether to abandon these individual fantasies and accept the utter incomprehensibility and randomness of the world or whether one allows this fantasy to dominate one's existence and meaning. In the end, this choice manifests itself in the more binary choice of whether Ofelia will sacrifice her brother to fulfill her own fantasy or not. She attains maturity by giving up this fantasy. In essence, she's saying she has had enough, and she is willing to give up her share of fantasy for another soul.

Fittingly, when she returns to the underground kingdom, she becomes the princess of the fantastic, and in the words of the narrator she leaves signs for those who know where to look. Her sacrifice has sustained the very idea of the fantastic, which through the ages may take many a manifestation in the eyes of many a child, without being subjugated by any one of these and bastardized into its most mangled, unimaginative form which is tyranny.

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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#99 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:19 pm

che-etienne wrote:As I noted in response to Nothing, it is made very clear how much a child Ofelia still is, and in fact this aspect of her character is key to the film. She cannot comprehend the world around her, at times indifferent even to her mother's suffering, as is evidenced already in the first scene where she disregards her mother's coughing spell. Ofelia at key moments in the film acts foolishly and rashly, such as when she eagerly opens the book (a third time?) only to find the pages soaking with blood, luridly displaying the pain of her suffering mother in the next room, and suggesting that it is the result of her own selfish negligence. Another example, which I have already used, is her confrontation of the toad, in which she must strip from her dress, only to return to the house covered in mud. This action has consequences upon her mother's standing with the captain, a matter of life and death it seems, which she as a child simply cannot see, and her mother rebukes her. The scene with the thin man is also indicative of this immaturity and foolishness on her part. So I cannot agree that this scene is in any way out of character.
Very interesting; and in fact this would almost cause me to reverse my position if there were not one more imbalance: these are instances of her fantasy world causing a bit of unknowing negligence concerning the "real" world. In contrast, her violation with the cherries takes place wholly within the fantasy world (and so does not have an external motivation to prompt such negligence); and, as I said, it is a knowing, a conscious decision to break a rule, where the other instances are unknowing and undesired. It still doesn't quite fit, at least for me.
che-etienne wrote:Indeed, I find it hard to see where you come up with the idea that the violence is meant to somehow shock us into seeing the reality of the world.
Well this was my trying to account for it. The style of the violence is the unflinching kind to come out of Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan and the war movie aesthetic they have popularized. It is very realistically displayed. And, on top of that, the violence is meant only for the audience, not for Ofelia. I can only conclude that such realism in the violence (in contrast to the fakeness of the characters) is meant to impart some realism to the world of fascist violence, which seems to me disingenuous, to use violence rather than characters or psychology to suggest realism. But that's just my impression; maybe this works for other people.
che-etienne wrote:The film does not claim to be about the distinction between the imaginary and the real, or to give us an historical account of this war, but more correctly confronts the ways in which the real and the imaginary oftentimes become indistinct and how each individual creates his or her own fantasy with which to interpret a harsh reality.
God, this is good. But there is a niggling problem for me, because del Toro's "real" world has sincere impact and sincere importance. To equate it, or suggest a shared symbiotic existence with, a solipsitic and inconsequential fantasy world seems disingenuous, especially since neither really illuminates the other. (I am honestly writing this just as Pan's Labyrith wins best art direction). Anyway, I'd rather not get into the idea that the faun and fairies world is real because that opens up so many new problems and, at least when I really think about it, comes off as incredibly naive, but not in a charming or thrilling way.
che-etienne wrote:Rather violence and pain become a constant of both worlds as parts of a single world.
That is true, but the violence and the pain in the faries' world is negated because it is impossible to identify with a fantastical creature; their pain has no resonance. The pain of a human being, however, has terrible resonance. Anyway, that particular violence, with all of its fantastical overtones, was meant more to suggest Ofelia's danger at that moment. I don't see it as being much of a parallel to the violence in the "real" world, which never suggests any immediate danger to Ofelia.
che-etienne wrote:I'm not sure where you see the film condemning the mother.
I'm not at all saying she was a bad mother for Ofelia. The film, however, aside from treating a complex woman in a simple fashion, seems to be condemning her choice to marry a fascist, what with giving her a baby that kills her (insert vulgar allegory about fascism), and having her rebuke the fantasy world of Ofelia only for such rebuking to, the film suggests, kill her. And you're making a very fine distinction between big sister and mother figure. When a mother is unable or unwilling to perform her role, the older sister (or sibling) has to fill that role and become a surrogate parent. Thus, though Mercedes may be something of a big sister in temperament, she is offered as a surrogate mother or motherly figure who can take care of Ofelia even before her actual mother is killed, suggesting she was unable to be a proper mother long before. And I think that immediate supplial of a maternal figure who is more in sympathy with the child and who also happens to be on the "good guys" side is more than suggestive of a general negative view of Ofelia's mother.
che-etienne wrote:Much of the backlash of criticism against this film has come I think mostly in response to the first critical acclaim, which liked to tout the film as a political allegory and historical commentary.
Maybe. For my own part I knew nothing other than faint whispers of general acclaim, so I went into the movie with no opinion formed (aside from my ambivalence towards del Toro's Blade II).
che-etienne wrote:It can be said that the film invokes such imagery self-consciously and with a view to inspiring debate and I might agree, but I see no part of this film, however, that really adds up to the allegorical weight people have placed upon it. We must remember that a film's moral point of view is not also a political one, and that a moral allegory is different from a political allegory.
For my own part I'm not interested in allegory at all. That said, I certainly would not, nor do I, condemn the movie for allegory (my comment about didacticism was about something else). I do think the film has allegorical overtones in the way its fantasy works against the "reality," but that it doesn't seriously push them, and that the reputation or enjoyment one takes in the film should not rest on allegory.
che-etienne wrote:Comparing the film to Greek myths and Bible stories is I think equally fallacious, since both these literary genres grew out of specific moral traditions shared by specific communities.
Hey, even though I agree they don't much apply to Pan's, those myths are still a large part of our morals and our consciousness. Western morality is still very Hebraic in its content. And as for our psychology, Freud has ensured that some key Greek myths have become a part of our consciousness or our understanding of ourselves. But this is a useless digression.

Ultimately, che-etienne, you and I have come away with different and idiosyncratic movies. I'm glad you enjoy yours more than I do mine.

Nothing
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Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

#100 Post by Nothing » Mon Feb 26, 2007 1:46 am

Antoine Doinel wrote: I believe Del Toro has made it perfectly clear the film is supposed to be a fable.
I guess Superman Returns is a fable. The Planet of the Apes remake is a fable, etc... The use of a word doesn't excuse the laziness of Del Toro's simplistic depiction of the Spanish Civil War (and human nature), which Mr. Sausage aptly describes. It is Del Toro who has decided to tackle this complex and weighty subject and to treat it with as much depth as a Speilberg-produced made-for-TV movie; I therefore believe I have been addressing the movie fairly on its own terms.

> if you can point out any other Hollywood films that are both relentlessly grim, yet strikingly beautiful I'd like to see it.

If the film were relentlessly grim, Mercedes would die brutally at the hands of the Captain and the Captain would escape to South America, taking Ofelia with him to sell into sexual slavery... In fact, the film goes out of its way to please the audience, from the 'universal' (ie. Christian) moral framework, to Mercedes unlikely escape and the satisfaction of the Captain's demise. Ofelia's death is the fig leaf that tries to fool us into believing that the film is uncompromising - comparable to the ending of Se7en.

Aesthetically, it feels like a Tim Burton movie, from the extravagant fairy-tale sets and twee special effects (eg. the stick-insect creature) to the wall-to-wall 'paper-over-the-cracks' musical score. I'd say the rack of technical Oscars the film is currently picking up (trumping Lubezki's genuinely striking, European-styled cinematography on Children of Men) backs this up pretty firmly.

Yes, if the film was genuinely aesthetically striking that would earn it more brownie points. The afforementioned Children of Men is a case in point, with the mise-en-scene adding interest to what is otherwise a pretty muddled and pointless screenplay. Or Nosferatu, which earns its place in the canon primarily due to the innovation of its aesthetic approach, despite the tired nature of the dracula myth.

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