Friday, October 20, 2006
Sneak preview of "Pan's Labyrinth''
One of the great things about Columbia's MFA program is the free events at the School of the Arts building (Dodge Hall.) The Film Division, for example, has screenings almost every week, featuring first-run movies, including many that are in the sneak-preview phase. The film division lets us know about these things, in the form of flyers and emails, but we get so many emails about goings-on that it's easy to miss the best offerings. Last week I saw Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth,'' a strange but potent blend of horror-movie images, Grimm-style fairy tales and Franco-era fascist nastiness. The movie focuses on an 11-year-old girl whose stepfather is a cruel and overbearingly macho Franco supporter. He's in charge of an outpost on the edge of a vast forest, where guerrillas are hiding out and mounting attacks against the Fascists. Trespassers and curfew breakers --- including two hapless rabbit hunters -- are gunned down on sight. The interweaving of fantasy sequences (from the girl's imagination), and the Fascists-fighting-the-guerrillas sequences, is extremely well-done. The girl's imagination takes her to some increasingly dark places, including the lair of the "Pale Man,'' a cannibal with eyes in his hands. He presides over a banquet table. If a guest dares to take any item of food from the table -- even a single grape -- the Pale Man, a dead-ringer for Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Children,' springs into action and devours them. De Toro himself was on hand to talk about making the movie. In an eye-opening and profanity-laced interview, he said he was trying to create a film about disobedience in the face of an overwhelming power. This movie is a "Harry Potter'' for adults. (Impressionable kids should steer clear. It's full of sudden violence, torture sequences and some pretty off-putting horror imagery.) If nothing else, it's a reminder of a nasty (and recent) episode in Spain's tragic past. De Toro spoke of Generalisimo Franco "dying happy, in bed,'' in the mid-1970s.