Cinema: Pan's Labyrinth
Fantasy and brute reality are mixed up in Guillermo del Toro's new film Pan's Labyrinth, which opens today in the IFI. I saw it at a preview about a week ago and can't concur with the overwhelming critical acclaim it has received; for Observer critic Mark Kermode,it is a masterpiece. Of course it is nothing of the sort. Instead 'Pan's Labyrinth' is an uncomfortable melange of brutal torture scenes and at times cheesy fantasy sequences that suggest the imagination is a sanctuary from fascism. Set in 1944, in the northern region of Spain, twelve year old Ofelia is travelling with her mother to join up with her nasty step-father, a Francoist captain who is mopping up the last of the Republican guerillas. The girl loves reading fairy tales and is soon imagining an alternate world of fauns, monsters and labryinths where she is to be anointed princess of the underworld on condition that she complete three tasks. Meanwhile, back on the ground, her stepdad is busily murdering and torturing anyone who comes across his path. It is an uncomfortable mix and I found the violence at times overwhelming: faces slashed, legs and fingers dismembered, noses smashed into brains. This relentless grind is only slightly leavened by fantasy, which at times is hard going too. I can't see how the film tells us much about the Spanish Civil War but more about Del Toro's aesthetic sensibility and obsessions. Fascinating for him. Not for us though.