DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Panís Labyrinth, The Education of Fairies, Tideland, The Brothers Grimm, Labyrinth, A Little Princess, The Orphanage, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Title:  El Labertinto del Fauno

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: Spain/Mexico, Spanish

Running time:

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company:  Picturehouse / New Line / Warner Bros.

Director; Writer: Guillermo del Toro


Cast:   Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdu, Sergi Lopez

Technical: Flat 1.85 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: writing, self-expression, diaries, journals, war


Pan's Labyrinth ("El Labertinto del Fauno", 2006, Picturehouse/Warner Bros., dir.Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain, R, 112 min)  is a combination of fantasy, horror, and war drama set in the northern (Basque) part of Fascist Spain in 1944. A little girl Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) deals with her mother's (Maribel Verdu) relationship with her abusive new Army husband (Sergi Lopez) by escaping at will into a fantasy world of huge frogs, toadstoods, the transformed "faun" (Pan), and a featureless embryo-like monster who puts eyes in his hands. The imaginary world is first accessed through a mysterious labyrinth and then can be accessed from their house at night. The stories grow in parallel, as the brutalities of fascist Spain become apparent with graphic tortures and at least one amputation, on camera, of a gangrenous leg. There are scenes that are hard to watch.  The story seems like a miniature of other fantasies (LOTR, Eragon, maybe a prelude to Imajica) but scaled back into an adult fairy tale. Ofelia's retreat to her "imaginary" world is rather like a modern day person's retreat to cyberspace.

Somehow the fat hairless "gnome" on the cover of the Feb. 2007 issue of Discover reminds me of the underground creatures in this movie.

Author Patricia Nell Warren talks about Fascist Spain in her ACLU blog entry about COPA, "taking it personally", on Nov. 21, 2006, at this link.

Remember that the sprawling first movement of Mahler's Third Symphony is called "The Entrance of Pan."

The Education of Fairies ("La educacion de las hadas", Miramax/BVI, 2006, dir. Jose Luis Cuerda, novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, 103 min, R, Spain and Argentina) "Once upon a time there lived..."  On one of my substitute teaching assignments a couple years ago the kids had to write fairy tales. This movie is a kind of fairy tale about fairy tales and about family values. The only war reference (to compare it to Pan's Labyrinth) occurs when Nicolas (Ricardo Darin) tells his son Raul (Victor Valdivia) that journalists take more car casualties than soldiers or airmen. That's probably not true. This film goes back in forth in time to build its layers of fantasy, centered around Nicolas's treehouse-like cabin in the Pyrenees foothills north of Barcelona, where Raul, having been taught the "birds and the bees" in fairy tales, thinks that Nicolas's new friend is a fairy. But of course the story is really about the redemption of his marriage with his wife, who wants to separate because of loss of libido. Their marriage will ripen, just as does a banana which "there lived." There are wonderful scenes or ornithology (a bird with the colors of an oriole but the body or a robin), and an atmosphere where retreat into fantasy heals, just as it does in Pan's Labyrinth. 

Tideland (2006, ThinkFilm, dir. Terry Gilliam, novel by Mitch Cullin, 122 min, Netherlands/Canada) was released overseas in early 2006 but had only a brief arthouse presence in the US in late 2006. There is a parallel here to "Pan's Labyrinth", which after all is a war film. Here a little girl Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) retreats into a world of fantasy and soliloquy as her parents self-destruct around her with drugs. Her father Noah (Jeff Bridges) takes her on a bus to a Northfork-looking farm house after mother dies of a heroine overdose. Eventually the father becomes a corpse to play with sans mortician, as other characters, physical and not, accumulate, as do squirrels and disembodied dolls. The young cretin is played by Brendan Fletcher, who is riveting if you really care. The analogies of landscapes to internal human anatomy are interesting (but they have a precedent with Alien (1979), as do the outdoor landscapes, varying from marsh to mine. The movie is a bit like a dream that is hard to wake from -- a bit of a labyrinth.

 The DVD is preceded by a short bw introduction by Gilliam. The DVD plays at 1.85 to 1 and looks natural, although imdb says the movie was shot in Scope. The film was shot in Saskatchewan, the Prairie Province that looks orange in those wonderful 1950 World Book Encyclopedia relief maps, and it looks every pale brown in this film. I visited the province only once, in 1998 (the good old days of innocence), when I crossed the border from Montana on an unmarked dirt road that probably would be closed off today. 

The Brothers Grimm (2005, Dimension / MGM, dir. Terry Gilliam, 118 min, PG-13, UK/Czech Republic) is a take-off on the famous fairy tales with a touch of "Supernatural" where Will and Jake correspond to Sam and Dean, with a touch of "Once upon a time". The brothers propose to eliminate evil, get arrested, then can redeem their "reputation defense" in Marbaden with all the damsels in distress. Great monsters, including a golem whose upper body grows back any time it is decapitated. Bust before living happily ever after, Jake almost kisses Will to revive him, and Will comes to life. Will and Jake are played by Matt Damon and the late Heath Ledger.

Labyrinth (1986, TriStar, dir. Jim Henson, story with Dennis Lee). This fantasy is technically quite crisp and detailed, and shows what was done with 1980s technology (the Star Wars movies) and is having a rerun in the art houses. The fable has moral import. A teenage girl Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) loves to stir her imagination with a storybook, called the Labyrinth. Reminded by a clock and owl it is curfew, she returns home where her stepmother makes her babysit her baby brother. Remember the proverb, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." She wishes her baby brother to be taken so that she can pursue her teenage life free of involuntary family responsibility.  Well, she gets her wish, and is soon on a frantic musical journey through a labyrinth to find him within 13 hours before he becomes a goblin. There are plenty of chuck-e-cheese monsters with removable heads. David Bowie, fallen to earth, does a lot of the singing and makes more than a few cameos. 

A Little Princess (1995, Warner Bros., dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 97 min, G) is a family film with a rather penetrating political message. A little girl Sara (Liesel Matthews) is sent by her father (Liam Cunningham) to a boarding school in New York when he has to go into the Army in World War I. She has grown up in a life of privilege in India. She incurs resentment of the headmistress with her imagination in telling fairy tales, some of which the film demonstrates. The father is reported killed in action, and the British government seizes his assets (an anti-libertarian action). The headmistress, after a verbal confrontations scene that is quite brutal, makes her a servant girl and threatens to throw her out in the street. It's all rather like Charles Dickens all of the sudden. Still, there is an underlying subtext that privilege and social position are all tied to family, breed, and the willingness of women to be "properly" subject to men in a Victorian sense -- a sensibility that so angered the political Left in the 60s. The headmistress lectures that "real life" is about making the best of what one is dealt (she should talk).  At one Sara uses her storytelling to build genuine social and survival skills. But, like all fairy tales, this film has to end happily ever after. 

The Orphanage ("El Orfanato", 2007, Picturehouse / Telecine / Canal, dir. Juan Atonio Bayona, pr. Guillermo del Toro, 98 min, Spain, R) does something that might have seemed tasteless in the hands of an amateur.  Young children with disabilities are presented in an orphanage bought by Laura (Belen Rueda) and her husband (Fernando Cayo), however briefly, in a manner that at least suggests visually the "horror" that people experience when major illnesses are foisted upon them without warning or choice. They equate to dolls, and a mask worn by a supposedly now a deceased but previously disfigured child. Artistically, the film is supposed to relate to "Pan's Labyrinth" in its exploration of the merging of reality into fantasy. It does, but this is a horror film, and a haunted house tale, with layers of terror constantly unfolding. The social and political points it makes may seem disturbing, but they are worthy of making. Now, the couple has adopted a boy Simon (Roger Princep) who does not know that he is HIV positive and may never grow to manhood. The couple believes that adopting him has solidified their marriage, and that buying the estate on the Spanish coast and converting it into a boarding school for a small number of disabled children will further strengthen their bond. That actually reverses the way marriage has been debated recently.

 Now the boy suspects something is really wrong with him, and that his time in this world is limited, and he has taken on imaginary playmates, one of them the deceased disabled child with the mask. A mysterious woman has visited the orphanage. The boy disappears, and the woman is suspected of taking the boy. The couple makes a winter trip to the Basque northern mountainous area of Spain (actually in snow) and the woman is struck by a car in a horrific scene. From that point, Laura's grip on reality lessens. They begin to suspect the supernatural, and delve into the histories of other disabled children that perished under her care. Seances are arranged, with high-tech equipment, but the movie becomes surreal. Finally, Laura has to confront what level of reality she will live in.  

In a good theater, the Dolby Digital sound effects in this film are stunning. It is shot 2.35:1.  The original music by Fernando Velazquez is alternatively either atonal or schmaltzy, rather Viennese in character (somewhat reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood's work in "There Will Be Blood"). 



The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009, dir. Terry Gilliam, 122 min, UK USA). A traveling fantasy show collects souls Blogger.

Related reviews:. Saving Private Ryan, other war films   Northfork     12 Monkeys


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