Opening Sequence : Slow travelling forward (swirling?) on a girl laying on the ground with blood leaking from her nose, her head half tilted toward us. Heavy breathing.
This is a glimpse of the last shot of the film, playing backward (the blood appears to creeps back into her nose, which is more a digital special effect than a backward footage I think).
"Bear in mind that this story is set against the background of a war that was won by Spanish fascists, killing millions of civilians and forcing many more into exile, all with the support of Hitler and Mussolini."and acquarello at Strictly Film School :
"Set in 1944, the year that the annals of history have officially annotated as the year that the Republicans were defeated, thus marking the end of the civil war, reality proves less than neatly conclusive as the insurgency rages on (and would continue for nearly two decades), the resistance fighters fortifying their strongholds in the mountains with the covert aid of sympathetic villagers."
The Western genre influence on the direction of war sequences is made obvious by the cavalry, the smoke clouds raising from the forest, the way Vidal checks the rebels' abandonned campfire to tell how many they are, and the attack of the locomotive. Like in a Western, the point of view of the renegades (republican resistance) remains invisible, they always come out of nowhere and their whereabouts is a mystery, while the film follow the regular army (fascists) in their footsteps. Only the men in uniforms are evil and the homeless rebels are the freedom fighters. A reversal of cinematic values. Since Ofelia's mother married a fascist captain, our protagonist lives among the evil forces, and gives the film an original perspective on this war to denounces the cruelty of fascists from within their ranks.
The systematical mirroring of real-world adult activity and the re-enactment in the child's fantasy crypted by unconscious dreamwork might seem a little heavyhanded, but ultimately proves to carry a coherent symbolism (except for a few compromise to silly melodramatic cues).
There is a time to root for life and a time to enjoy death. This trick is also used with the stuttering guy's torture to illustrate how death is preferable to survival in certain cases (although he was a disposable secondary character anyway). The death of the main protagonist, an innocent child, was a bolder narrative move. But I still think it was filmed wrongly, even if her death is suggested in the very opening sequence of the film.
The archetypes aren't as manichaean as they seem. The ambiguity in each character makes the fable more interesting even if it was meant for suspense purpose.
Conversly the dramatic structure and the psychological situations aren't always one-sided. For instance the nazi-like captain is shown like an attentionate husband and father (forcing Carmen to use a wheelchair against her will for her health, and brave in defeat when he hands over his baby to the rebels when they execute him). Also the rebels are shown shooting dead at point blank the wounded soldiers, like the fascists did, no mercy, no prisonners. The magic creatures are also faillible (the fairies pick the wrong safe, the wicked Pan lies, changes his mind or plays deception game) which contrasts with the usual clearcut good/evil sides in fairytales where everyone's power is defined upfront and doesn't disappoint.
I wasn't impressed by the sound effects... there is a rich work (excesssive most of the time though) to create original sounds for the fantasy world, but contrary to the creative integration of visual special effects, sounds are triggered on cue to announce a character everytime they move whether they should make noise or not. I thought it was far too systematic, and lacked the moderation of an harmonious atmospherical soundtrack.
But what actually interested me most was the magic and the fantasy, structured by the symbolic (psychoanalitical dreamwork) tests Pan orders to Ofelia (which I will examine in the next posts : Pan's Fantasy & Pan's Tests)