24 January 2007

Review: Pan's Labyrinth

Genre: Drama / Fairy Tale

Pan's Labyrinth is of the type of film whose presence one doesn't often see in films mainly comprised of live-action shots. A fairy tale absolute, both in self-description and in wide defintion, the film ventures beyond what is traditionally precircumscribed as the sort of film that is handled so, with dark tones, a fair budget, and serious actors yet unfamiliar to the American public. It is even farther beyond for its not being in English. Perhaps these are exactly the elemental factors that have given it its general acclaim, appreciation, and honorification. Like the film itself can be, the previous statement can be interpreted in two different, yet possibly still related, ways.
What I mean of course is that, as with all fairy tales, there is a specific progression or conceit that unites the story in either a didactic or allegoric way. Usually this conceit is fairly predictable, often dealing with issues of perseverance or maturation, frequently sexual. Pan's Labyrinth is no exception from these concerns, dealing mostly with the incipience of sexual maturity and the historically and metaphorically linked incipience of death in its protagonist Ofelia (in a compelling and correct way, that causes those incipiences to bleed [at times quite literally] throughout the rest of the story - good writing). Yet, despite this conceptualy strong and classic pairing of fairy-tale topics, the screenplay, though indeed possessive of a clear, well-described creativity in its detail, lacks the clear, well-described fairy-tale trope in its effectuation - which it must have in order to be a successful member of the genre, regardless of however infrequently presented or realized in live-action film. So, while every component of the perfect fairy tale dealing with those topics was included in the final product, not every component was as well, or as precisely, elocuted or elaborated as it should have (and definitely could have) been. A key example of this blurred delivery is the nondescript transitions in the film from the storyline of Ofelia and her troubledly pregnant mother, which related a poignancy in passive death as in the case of the bloody 'death' of a virgin through first sexual intercourse, across to the storyline of the split father (see below for explanation), which related an urgency in active death as in the case of the bloody death of a sacrifice at the executioner's hand. As one can easily connect, these relations are clearly adjunct to one another, conceptually constructed to address excellently as art questions of death, sexuality, and awakening to both as part of the adolescent progress. Sacrifices are so often (female) virgins and the Elektral inherency in the split father (which, for all of you unaware ties, the split father inextricably to the pregnant mother as the daugther transitions in care, tutelage, and obsession from the latter across to the former) is impossible to miss. Yet for their chyrsalic unified perfection, the two halves must be identified as halves first and only subsequently joined together, or 'revealed' to be as one; such is the necessary climactic progression of storytelling, such the quite literal denouement, especially in the fairy tale genre. In a chronological plot, failing to do so only results in a premature manifestation, which ideologically for the adolescent child is disastrous. Therefore, I was very sorry to watch the film muddle its wonderful, almost physically affecting message for purely delivery-concerned unthinking.
Despite this shortcoming, the film nevertheless made a good showing. The actors were all nimble and compelling; the computer animations wonderfully descript; the cinematography admirable on the whole; the art direction clearly thoroughly rendered and beautiful; and the score almost terrifically exact - it, I believe, was the film's strongest component.
So, I too am blurred in my presentation, as I began saying above. Is it negatively the novelty of the tonal aspects of the film that has given it its widespread acclaim, negatively implying that its failings made it unworthy of such praise? Or was it positively so, implying that those aspects thankfully made its true quality noticeable enough for the general English-speaking public, that it deservedly has been honored? I must settle on a response somwhere in the middle. The screenplay was too muddled to allow the film to be considered truly great, but that muddling wasn't nearly bad enough to criticize it negatively, as in the former way. Pan's Labyrinth therefore was a energetic, thoughtful attempt at creating a great film, that unfortunately tripped along its way. Congratulations, Sr. de Toro; though it may be ambivalent, it's still way better than what most have garnered this year.

Grade: B

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