Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen
Once upon a time, a foreign fairy-tale movie snuck into the Academy Awards ceremony and waltzed off with three little Oscars.
Now, we all know that foreign films are only supposed to win the “Best Foreign Film” award, of course, but this one took the golden statues for Art Direction, Makeup and Cinematography.
It stars a nice little female, a very bad Fascist, and a Big Giant Faun.
It is called “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and is still playing on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, in case you missed the local run.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a wonder to behold, both visually and story-wise. It’s the tale of how a young girl uses her imagination to cope with the horrors around her. And thanks to writer/director Guillermo de Toro’s own spectacular imagination, the viewer is swept into a world that seems half-bizarrely magical and half-shockingly human.
It is set in the mountains of Spain in the year 1944. A dictatorial Captain in Franco’s Fascist army has been sent with his men to track down and destroy a small pocket of local insurgents. He brings along his pregnant wife and her daughter – a young girl who loves fairy tales, hates her wicked stepfather, and looks strikingly like Anne Frank.
Before you see this film in theaters or rent the DVD, please be aware that it’s R-rated and not a child’s fairy tale at all. Also, it’s in Spanish, with English subtitles. But the language is no barrier to the magic of this cinema.
As the captain, played convincingly by veteran Spanish actor Sergi Lopez, begins to torture and murder the citizens, the young girl finds an escape from harsh reality. A huge and elaborate Faun, wonderfully enacted by Doug Jones (an American who’s made a career of playing weird creatures), appears to the girl and offers her three tasks to complete in order to escape to a magic kingdom beneath the earth. Along the way, Jones also plays one of the scariest film creatures in many years: a pale lumbering zombie with eyeballs in his hands.
Thirteen-year-old Ivana Baquero becomes the girl with such charm and believability that many critics felt she would have been nominated for an acting Oscar had this been an English-speaking film. She is very good indeed as she sets out, unbeknownst to her evil stepfather, to complete her tasks in an icky-gunky half-fantasy world built with a touch of Alice in Wonderland and a dollop of Wizard of Oz.
This film is an odd mixture of gruesome horror story and Grimm-like fairy tale. Director del Toro is a master at walking that thin line atwixt the two while holding his audience spellbound. It has that strange feeling of being an old-fashioned movie, yet you still never know what’s going to happen next.
That’s all heightened by de Toro’s penchant for using prosthetics and makeup (in many cases) instead of computer generated images.
Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:
It’s your last chance to see two Oscar-nominated films locally, on the big screen. “Venus,” starring Peter O’Toole, and “The Last King of Scotland,” with Best Actor winner Forest Whittaker are both currently at the Dixie in Staunton.
Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.