Posted Nov 6, 2010 in Arts | 5 Comments

Birthday Movie: Pan’s Labyrinth

My birthday was a week and half ago. My birthday movie this year is technically Master and Commander, and yet again, I couldn’t last after the amputation scene. Speaking of which, there’s an amputation scene in Pan’s Labyrinth too. Unless the movie’s a samurai or martial arts movie, amputation really needs to stop happening in movies.

Guillermo del Toro’s film is one that me and my sister always wanted to see together, so I was banned to see it by myself. This ban, like every other movie ban of hers, is generally lifted when the film’s second run is over, or when the Oscars are over, whichever happens last. But it still felt rebellious when I saw it the day after my 23rd birthday.

Pan’s Labyrinth has a strong supporting cast that includes Maribel Verdu who plays a housemaid named Mercedes. She, among other things, looks after our heroine Ofelia. In the second scene, she gives the fascist captains some drinks, taking an unnoticed peek at a map that the men have laid with pegs on the table.

This is where I worry. Her death is devastating enough in Y Tu Mama Tambien and I won’t take another death from her. Also, although this movie’s an ‘art horror’ film, we’ll pretend that it’s simply horror and worry that she’ll get killed. She’s not sexually promiscuous, but she’s a supporting female. She’s also subversive, giving the rebels signals and sneaking out to see the band of reds in the nearby forest, one of them being her brother. Her actions, as well as the actions of other characters, will bring consequences, including fatal ones. But we’ll get back to that.

Friends, remember, this isn’t horror but art-horror. Yes, it shows the grotesque, and there’s one shot that could be considered a shock cut – when a grasshopper appears suddenly out of a stone carving (and yes, the CGI kills me too). One of the ways horror gains the suffix-art is through profile shots instead of shock cuts. We meet Fauno (Doug Jones) through a pan to the right that shows his profile, not seeing him neither from the front nor back, not rushing towards the audience or to Ofelia. del Toro wants us to like him.

And after he charms Ofelia and the audience, I was thinking that the structure of the movie is gonna be just Ofelia being lost as Princess Moanna while the real world tries to find her. I was wrong. The film is gonna be about Ofelia’s struggles with fantasy and reality, living and crossing through both world. That’s the first thing I’m wrong about.

See? Mercedes’ brother gets caught, then the doctor, and now it’s her turn. The captain sarcastically tells her how bemused he is at how she betrayed his trust, that he would have given her anything instead of having to steal it. The captain gives her the same sadist routine he has given her, thinking he has the upper hand against a woman. I didn’t wanna see what was going to happen next…


The Bell Lightbox, the heir apparent to the Cinematheque Ontario, is the hollowed ground of cinema in Ontario. I cheered then slightly regretted it, knowing that history. But I’ve been to this place many times and I think it’s more lax than its predecessor. She gives him a warning not to touch the girl or she’ll kill him herself, and leaves a mark for him to remember.

Remember what I said about consequences, and how Mercedes’ actions, like any characters’ actions, will cause them? Because of her BAMF move, we get this.

I’ll also talk about how Mercedes fits in with the other authority figures in the film, Mercedes representing socialism with her caring, altruistic and courageous personality and working class roots. I underestimated her like the Captain has, being intelligent and knife savvy enough as the film’s ‘final girl.’ Although yes, her character’s future after the film ends is still uncertain, with the ongoing war and struggle against Franco.

The Captain, easily enough, represents fascism. He wants Ofelia’s recently born brother to have his last name, presenting himself, like fascism, as the traditional figure while disregarding real tradition. He also hates women.

Fauno, meanwhile, represents the monarchy, an entity of many names, archaic, origins unknown, having connections with God and the supernatural. He’s nice and charming  and Ofelia looks up to him as a father figure. He also demands absolute, unquestioned obedience. If I was Ofelia I would have totally done what he has asked her to do, knowing that he’s her escape in comparison to the captain, and escapes have consequences and sacrifices. It’s a brave choice for Ofelia to make a stand and notsacrifice her brother for her throne. She surprisingly understands at a young age, that one’s absolute authority is still as bad as the one before him/her.

The film has two endings that are both correct if we’re talking about national allegory. Spain is both a monarchy with a socialist prime minister as of 2006, the time the film is made, and now at 2010. Ofelia both becomes Princess Moanna and dead, mourned by Mercedes. It’s a bittersweet ending, Ofelia and Mercedes’ story encompassing a country’s return to normalcy and yet its unrepairable innocence.

Pan’s Labyrinth is screening again at the Bell Lightbox, November 20th at 9:30 PM. It’s one of the screenings at the Lightbox that I’m looking forward too, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Birth of a Nation

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  1. Paolo Mariachi
    Paolo Mariachi says:

    I just realized I misspelled Birthday lol.

  2. Happy belated birthday. I really like this writeup though I’m not especially fond of this one, though at the moment I can’t remember why. A rewatch is probably in order, but back in 06 I remember being impressed but unmoved.

  3. Speaking of misspellings, you are apparently excited to see that Winnie-the-Pooh film “Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon.” :)

  4. Paolo Mariachi
    Paolo Mariachi says:

    I’ll tell my editor. Also, despite my English Major/English Nazi background, I should really start making typos. When I did everything right, I got jack for comments.

  5. Paolo Mariachi
    Paolo Mariachi says:

    *Grammar Nazi.

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