12 novembre 2006

Pan's Labyrinth (2006/del Toro)

El Laberinto del Fauno / Pan's Labyrinth (2006/Guillermo del Toro/Spain) ++

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).

Spain 1944, fascist army of Franco still struggles to put out the underground guerilla of the republican fighters hidden in the mountains. Interesting historical context reminded by David D'Arcy at GreenCine :
"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."

Guillermo del Toro rehashes the same concerns developped in El Espinazo del diablo / The Devil's backbone (2001), that mixed supernatural and the horror of war in a world of orphans confronted to unjust discipline (in 1939 at the end of the civil war), written after Pan's Labyrinth (which took 10 years for greenlight).
It's interesting to note the absence of a religious reference/character in Pan's Labyrinth, despite the arguable role of Church in supporting Franco. As acquarello quotes, Guillermo del Toro said the hand-eyed Pale Man was inspired by the stigmatas from christianity, so this would be the clerical figure disguised under a cryptic allegory (which is also inspired by Goya's Saturn Devouring one of his Children).

Ofelia, a 12 yold girl who lost her father during the war, is drawn with her mother, Carmen, outside of the city by a severe step-father, Vidal (captain in Franco's army), who is the father of the baby Carmen is about to deliver. Although the mother is only a secondary character, her illness doesn't give her much speaking parts, she doesn't make the end of the film either, and Mercedes, the servant, becomes a surrogate mother, trusted, affectionate advisor. Her father is dead, so he's out of the picture (or is he?), and the step-father is dominant, even if the father-daughter relationship is very limited and filled with mutual hate. And the rebels are also distant secondary characters. Thus the main characters (Vidal, Pan, Mercedes, Ofelia), forming the nucleus family model (dad-mom-girl) are strangers each playing a role that isn't theirs. The dad role being shared between captain Vidal and Pan (who I suspect is the dream reincarnation of her dead father).
The war trauma and political turmoil in Spain is translated in this allegory of a dysfunctional family. Ofelia, on the fence between a fairytale books populated childhood (metaphor of peace and innocence) and the conflicts of adolescence with parents (metaphor of the violence of war, of resistance and breaking up with an authoriarian regime). The film is a symbolic lesson on the moral consequences, in life and death, of a blind submission to orders or a reasonned defiance to constraints based on terror.
A principle illustrated many times in the story, both in the real world and in the fantasy world, with almost each main characters, and slightly different results according to the purity of their mind. Ofelia disobeys her mother to accomplish her first test, ignores Pan to stay with her mother, contradicts the fairies suggestion to pick the right safe, disobeys Pan to eat the grape, defies the captain to kidnap the baby, and finally turns back on Pan to give the baby back to the captain. The doctor disobeys the captain to end the suffering of the tortured prisonner and thus risks his own life. Mercedes disobeys the captain to help the resistance despite the threat of torture and death.
The test of rebellion is always risky and balances the higher moral ground of a heroic sacrifice of one's life v. a submissive/coward life condoning the evil happening around. The heart of success in a resistance against the almighty despotic machine is self-sacrifice in the hope to save a better life for future generations.
[EDIT] Bringing up past history today in Spain, after the 3-11-2004 terror attack in Madrid, could be a reminder of the legitimacy of resistance and the blindness of a standing army following narrowminded orders... The reference to Gulf War 2 is not too far fetched. And the point of view chosen by Del Toro to observe this war from the (evil) side of the official army, matches the position of Spain in Irak, in the Bush cohalition, against the local guerilla fighting against the oppressor.

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.
Unlike André Malraux' L'Espoir (1945) about an earlier battle (circa 1937) of the same war filmed entirely from the perspective of the resistance, hidden in the mountains and organising commando operations against an impersonal army. Malraux's direction is incomparably more poetical and cinematic of course.
I don't understand Guillermo del Toro's experiment with the faux-transition to link 2 (cutaway) scenes in a seamless lateral travelling... it doesn't quite work and shows off virtuosity rather than bring a meaningful reading to the visual language.

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).
Guillermo del Toro does a better job than Gilliam's desastrous Brothers Grimm (2004) to adapt the fairytale mythology and explore its function in children's personality construction, and its re-interpretation of a reality too overwhelming to comprehend. Here the special FX are seamless (except for the line of sight of the young actress) and original prostethics are very inventive.
Although this tale is too gruesome for kids and too naive for grown ups, which makes a weird combination that hurts both targeted audiences. The compromises to mix 2 incompatible genres ultimately result in an average movie without spirit. For instance, the labyrinth (borrowed to the Chartres cathedral) is too literal, too concrete. It wasn't necessary to prove its existence by the words of Mercedes, or to film the girl with adults there. The power of imagination to generate a wonderland out of nothing, in the girl's dream or pretend game with imaginary friends, leaves the doubt for the audience. It's a mistake to overstate its reality, since the film diegesis already show us it's there, while the image in a film carries a fruitful plurality of interpretations (past memory, dream, wishful thinking, fiction, illustration, metaphor). The Brazil inspired ending also commits a fatal error, by draging the captain, then the rebels, into the labyrinth, and showing the captain's viewpoint of Ofelia talking to an invisible Pan. Is it that only naive children can see magic creatures or is it that she's insane? This shot is too literal and breaks the suspension of disbelief like if the filmmaker estranged his protagonist 2 minutes before the end.
Ofelia slowly sinks into her fantasy world as she quits the world of livings to the tune of a lullaby, like in Gilliam's Brazil (1984), where it suited the schizophreniac demise of the adult protagonist (european cut), and fails completely the fantasy belief of childhood in Pan's Labyrinth. If there is a way to film the meeting of adult's and children's perception it was the wrong choice there. Gilliam's latest film, Tideland (2005), also strives to confront childhood fantasy and adult reality, and end up with this odd cross-genre with a gruesome puerile triffle...
The film also borrows from the imagery of Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland, exemplified by the pretty dress she wears in the forest, the descent in the pit, and her talking to imaginary friends.
The melo ending contradicts the active rhythm of the film. When Mercedes sees Ofelia shot on the ground, you'd think she would call for help, carry her in the house, try to save her life... but as if she instantly figures it's too late, she starts to sing a lullaby like if it was the only thing to do. Melodramatic cinema always has convenient ways to deal with the most effective dramatic situations, if not the most realistic. Sometimes they want us to care for the urgency, then we feel empathy for the protagonist's survival, but if it's a glorious ending, the urgency is immediately discarded to make us focus on the courage in death and the prospect of a shiny after-life.
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)
(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) ++ (i) +++ (c) ++

19 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

You write: "It wasn't necessary to prove its existence by the words of Mercedes, or to film the girl with adults there" .... "showing the captain's viewpoint of Ofelia talking to an invisible Pan."

Another example of this, I think, although not quite so clear-cut, are the chalk-line doors, which the adults see after Ofelia has gone through them, implying that she really went through stone walls.

I like the movie a lot, and most of these overly-literal bits were pretty easy to dismiss. This movie is destined for a broad audience, and I think filmmakers who aim for that audience tend to mistrust it. Maybe the viewers won't won't notice that what they're seeing is a child's way of making sense of the horror.

Mainstream movies and TV are extremely literal, so I can imagine there's pressure on a filmmaker to explain things away (maybe unspoken pressure, a mutual understanding among all the parties involved in making the movie). Even something like the Twin Peaks TV series, which initially worked as a chilling metaphor for abuse turned literal when David Lynch left to work on movies -- the intangible became a force in the woods that really inhabited men and made them do terrible things.

By the way, I'm slapping my forehead reading your Goya reference. Of course -- that image seemed familiar but I couldn't quite place it.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi Rob, thanks for your comment.
I know what you mean, but there is a way to be extremely didactic, walk through the audience and still manage to transcend the genre with panache.
To take an extreme counter example, Tati writes really dumb stories anyone can understand (despite the lack of dialogue) and eventually reveals an intelligent mise-en-scene and a much deeper subtext (for whoever wishes to read between the lines).
I can't think of a good comparison but there are directors who do genre for the mass without overstatements and literality. (maybe Spielberg, Lucas, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, even Shyamalan...)

So the violence didn't bother you? The subject rules out the adult audience, the movie is obviously designed for children/early teens. So there was a more clever way to film violence (with visual ellipsis) if the scenes of torture and gratuitous executions were necessary to the story.

Yes good catch with the chalk-line door, I meant to mention it too. It's really brief and only in the background of a scene that doesn't focus on this detail, so it's a clever intergration. But unecessary.
It's funny because, my take was opposite. I thought it meant that the girl believed in her fiction and did draw a door on the wall, and unlike in the fantasy, the door didn't disappear. So we see her roleplay on the wall, and she pretended to go through the wall, like children do. So the detail is rather a disproval of the fantasy theory, I thought.
Your take is equally valid though.
But I don't think the audience needs this question asked. The film itself is a supposition that the girl's fairytale is real. By watching the film through her eyes, we admit her fantasy world to be true. Whether what is happening is real or imagined is up to the audience (it's our game), not for the film to tell, especially the way this story unfolds and the result expected from this ambiguity.

Anonyme a dit…

I think the extreme violence rules out even older kids, but I'm not sure the subject matter rules out adults necessarily. At least not all of us. I typically don't like fantasy films (or books) at all, but this one did appeal to me, maybe because I could think about it as a child's view of a bad situation, etc, except for the few flaws you mention. I think I'll choose your interpretation of the chalk-line doors because it's one less hurdle. :-)

When I think back on books I enjoyed as a kid, I think there's a pattern. I never got into the Lord of the Rings novels, but I liked Alice in Wonderland -- maybe because the fantasy world started from reality and unfolded slowly, the reader discovering things along with the protagonist instead of being immersed in a foreign world. Another example: the Narnia books, which I read but don't remember at all except for the opening bit in England and the wardrobe. "Turkish delight" and a wooden wardrobe were more interesting mysteries than talking lions, witches, queens, etc.

I wonder if Del Toro is indulging a similar interest. He seems to be doing something different from the directors you mention who work within a genre but silently smuggled in subtext -- maybe Hitchcock is the quintessential example. Del Toro seems to want to co-opt the genre, reclaim it from the world of children's movies to satisfy his own lingering interest in fantasy that has changed into something different from the stories kids enjoy, something psychological and violent, even though it remains firmly connected to childhood.

So, no, I didn't have a problem with the violence for me, an adult, although it did make me cringe.

I agree completely with your last paragraph. Films are often far too ready to solve mysteries for us and delineate fact from fiction ... it should be up to us to decide. I have some lesser complaints about the purely evil depiction of the guy who Ofelia's mother married -- he's awful, why marry him -- but that can be explained away if we consider that what we know about him is filtered through Ofelia.

HarryTuttle a dit…

I understand what you say about the realism of the origin of fantasy in the real world. It's the day-night (reality-dream) alternation like the Clark Kent-Superman duality archetype, with the power to bring fantasy into our daily lives.

However I don't understand what is the target of this trend of cross-genre, half-infantile/half-gore. I doubt the late teens who would enjoy this type of graphic violence would be interested by the story of a 12 yold girl talking to fairies... It sounds like an antagonist marriage.

The example I was looking for would be Tim Burton, who makes films for the mass, children and adults at the same time, without compromising with his dark, morbid inspiration and the intelligence of his direction.
Peter Jackson is a great example too thank you.
Rob Reiner's Princess Bride (1987)is also a crowd pleaser for both kids and adults, and quite violent (but using clever ellipsis to avoid direct graphic horror).

Your complaint about the Carmen-Vidal couple is interesting. It troubles me too. There is an innuendo about their suspicious relationship during the dinner with the other fascist officers, and I didn't get it. They imply that it's suspect Vidal waited 2 years after the death of her husband to marry her, or something... I wonder if Vidal killed the husband who was his taylor. Did you understand that part?

Anyway I assumed Carmen was a little naive, or maybe opportunist to save her daughter by marrying a protective officer (winning side of the war). But the script makes sure we don't sympathize too much with her (little screen time and arguable affection for Ofelia), and is punished by death, maybe for being too complacent for the evil side. So Del Toro's perspective favors empathy for Mercedes rather than Carmen, and that's his illustration of the intimate conflicts within a family due to civil war. Ofelia (hero) picks the Republicans, and Carmen (villain) picked Franco. The fact Carmen is pregnant and the mother of our protagonist makes her stance all the more ambiguous... which puts the audience in an uncomfortable position to empathize with her, like it is difficult to justify political clashes within a family. That's how I took it.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Did you review the film Rob? I didn't see your TIFF reports.

and I just added a paragraph in my post about the reason to use this story now in Spain, with such violence :
"Bringing up past history today in Spain, after the 3-11-2004 terror attack in Madrid, could be a reminder of the legitimacy of resistance and the blindness of a standing army following narrowminded orders... The reference to Gulf War 2 is not too far fetched. And the point of view chosen by Del Toro to observe this war from the (evil) side of the official army, matches the position of Spain in Irak, in the Bush cohalition, against the local guerilla fighting against the oppressor."

The same uncomfortable sentiment split the population in France because of the Independance of Algeria... We were the colon, the oppressor, Algerians were the freedom fighters and we called them "terrorists". (see The Battle of Algiers, which incidentally choose to show both sides of the war quite equally)

Anonyme a dit…

I'm pretty squeamish about violence in general, but Vidal's wound and subsequent "self surgery" were the ones where I was really squirming in my seat. I also took the fantasy and grotesque aspect to be a child's way of reconciling the uncertainty around her (like Spirit of the Beehive), but I'm not convinced that the over-the-top violence fits even if the fairy-crushing monsters do. One's too rooted in the real, I think.

Regarding the terrorism analogy, I'd agree with that. Del Toro also commented about how the last partisan in the Spanish Civil War was caught and executed in the mid 60s, some 20 years after Franco declared victory. The parallel with Bush prematurely strutting under a banner that says "Mission Accomplished" after the end of the military engagement (before the rise of the insurgency) is pretty much unavoidable.

Anonyme a dit…

Harry, I don't understand exactly what happened with Carmen's previous husband either, but it does seem like there was some unspoken nastiness involving Vidal, something about him having to avoid the appearance of swooping in to take Carmen after the taylor's death.

In fact, your comments about Del Toro reflecting civil war as conflicts within a family are interesting; the conflicts extend beyond just Ofelia and her mother, to Vidal (the new father) and to her father, now gone for ambiguous reasons. Ofelia also feels a kind of guilt for her mother's pregnancy problems. So the family is torn at almost every possible joint. (Saturn devouring his children, indeed.)

Unfortunately I didn't have my site up in time to post TIFF stuff this year, although some reviews will trickle out. I did write a review of Pan's Labyrinth which will be in the December issue of Paste. I'll post it on my site as soon as the issue appears, but it's not as interesting as this discussion.

Acquarello, the "surgery" definitely got me, too. The gauze, oh the gauze. I had to look away and clinch my teeth. I'd like to read/see/hear an interview with Del Toro, in particular to hear his reasoning behind the violence. Does he just think it's cool? I'm not so sure it was intended to make the movie appeal to adolescents. (Maybe we can get Maya to pin him down. Michael, gotchyer ears on?)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Oops it was "colonial" instead of "colon" (that's a french word and no it doesn't mean that!)

I didn't know about Del Toro's position on Iraq, but I asked myself the question of Serge Daney "When takes place the story and why film it now?", and the film definitely questions the justification of coercive authority.
His spanish audience will immediately identify the army of Franco as the villains, but still the film tries to open the story with a legit army and an anarchist insurgency. And the mother patronizes Ofelia (and us), sweet talking her into liking Vidal.
Although Vidal should have developped a more convincing moral justification, by using manipulative propaganda to make rebels look like "bloodthirsty terrorists". This would have been more subversive than his SS-like interrogation technique that identifies the evil side.

Thus, I think Guillermo Del Toro is very close to Shyamalan, especially The Village that was an allegory for Bush's fear-mongering policy, and also used fairytales to escape reality (although in an opposite way).

Davis, even if the background isn't fully unexplained, I can't figure the underlaying coherence behind this script... so many things show frontal contradictions. Ofelia is too old for the anger-jealousy against the newborn, and too young for the teenage denial of parental authority. Her decision to handover the baby to Vidal in the end seems absurd, should we believe Ofelia's mind built up to mistrust Pan and trust Vidal instead at this point? I can't place the true moral intention of the subtext. The whole tragedy is a lame patchwork that doesn't converge to the same place. I'm not sure Del Toro grasp all his stuff, or I'm missing the key revelation there...

Here is Maya's TIFF review

HarryTuttle a dit…

On what level does the Spirit of the Beehive reference apply? The thematic of the civil war associated to children fantasmagoria is the same indeed, although the narrative structure differs greatly : from mature (masterpiece) to infantile (blockbuster). I don't know why the reviews call it an "art film" (subs and foreign language? graphic violence just makes it an horror genre not an artfilm), because it's a plain middle-brow entertainment format...

When Victor Erice establishes clearly the initial "horror" impression on the children as a film within the film and the ensuing "fantasy" developping in their head as kids roleplay (prank) confronted to adult's serious problems (outlaw, wound, war, police), Del Toro stays in a Disneyworld kind of magic (albeit darker in content). So the film's point about children escapism isn't half as insightful in the latter.

Although the story is strangely similar. Erice's characters are also from a broken family. The single mother has an adultary relationship (if I remember right). The Spanish civil war from the point of view of children in a remote village. And the incidental contact of children with the insurgency with an innocent open-mind.

The structure comparison of the two films would be interesting to show how Erice does more with less, and doesn't play the facile emotional chords Del Toro uses. (This aside from the genre league separation of course)

Michael Guillen a dit…

It is very late at night and I should be asleep but, of course, I stumbled upon your post and cannot leave it be. I'm energized by my disagreement with some of your perceptions and might as well speak them out.

Transgression, Joseph Campbell taught me, is a heroic impulse. You helpfully catalog the transgressive texture of Pan's Labyrinth: "Ofelia disobeys her mother to accomplish her first test, ignores Pan to stay with her mother, contradicts the fairies suggestion to pick the right safe, disobeys Pan to eat the grape, defies the captain to kidnap the baby, and finally turns back on Pan to give the baby back to the captain. The doctor disobeys the captain to end the suffering of the tortured prisoner and thus risks his own life. Mercedes disobeys the captain to help the resistance despite the threat of torture and death." Fairy tales frequently carry the valence of transgressive redemption. Whatever the protagonist is warned not to do, is precisely what they feel compelled to do, whether it's to open a door, open a box, eat the food of the dead, or the fruit of the tree of the knowledge between good and evil; social taboos dressed in one custom or another that require an individual to make ethical choices specific to their individuation. Choice becomes the necessary means to access the future, which is to say the development of personality.

Pan is brilliantly reconfigured to infer his chthonic origins freed from Christian shackles. The devil is clearly revealed as a Christian recontextualization guising a political stratagem. You likewise astutely observe the contrast between the uniform of fascist authority and the camoflauge of insurgent warfare: "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." Reversals being, again, transgressive rituals of inversion. Further, I would suggest that the guerrilla tactics of the renegade fighters, their "invisibility", is more a blending into the woods. They are aligned with Pan as natural to the woods.

I completely disagree, however, with your assessment that del Toro's "seamless lateral traveling" is an unsuccessful attempt to explore the function of fairytale mythology as it pertains to children's personality construction. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think fairy tales were ever meant for children. Fairy tales are the folkoric inflection of myth which, in turn, were psychological templates for adults to comprehend intrapsychic interactions as understood through interpersonal dynamics. It's the fact that modern cultures have become out of touch with the psychological relevance of ancient myths that they have then been delegated away from adult personality construction to that of children. But think about it: just as Harry employs the sharp reference to Goya's painting where Saturn devours his children, many fairy tales destroy children (Hansel and Gretel get thrown into the oven, Cinderella is abused, Rapunzel is locked away, Beauty is traded away to a Beast, Pinocchio suffers on the Island of Lost Boys, the list goes on and on) and it takes dark directors like del Toro or Hitchcock (as Davis referenced) to kill off children, a strict taboo in an infantilized society. When children are glorified to the point that shadows are demonized (think Peter Pan escaping his own shadow), then consider that new possibilities are being squelched by an old order afraid to change. Saturn was not hungry for his children. It was not that they were delicious. It was that he was afraid they would kill him. Davis, I suspect, is on the right track when he states that del Toro's is a reclamative act of creation.

As for the labyrinth, specifically the Chartres' labyrinth that you allude to (and which I walked and researched during my sojourn to Chartres last September), its importance lies in how it insinuates (as in sinuous) the pagan substratum that informs Christian iconography and, yes, even worship. The labyrinth—a symbol of the soul seeking spirit, embodied by the contemplative (i.e., "with the temple within the temple") walking of the labyrinth by the devout—had (according to legend at least) at its center an image of Theseus and the Minotaur. This is why the labyrinths fell out of favor with the institutional church. They were recognized as being direct syncretic threats. But my focus is that in the myth of Theseus a longstanding dispute between two cities is being erroneously mollified by the sacrifice of Athens' youth to the labyrinth at Crete. I disagree that Pan's Labyrinth is a failed or flawed vehicle; I consider it is possibly one of the best expressions of syncretism. It is both pagan, registering ancient chthonic practices, and (as Iñarrítu has lovingly chastised del Toro) fiercely Catholic.

As for the visible chalk lines. They are seen, if you recall, by Mercedes who also, at one time, could see fairies, which she admitted to Ofelia. It's as if Ofelia's facility to move within the planes of perception are reawakened in Mercedes. But even that explanation is a defensive rationalization over literalizing images that are meant to be purposely ineffable and beyond limiting categories such as "real" and "fantasy" or "adult" and "childlike." You experience the bizarre contradictions of dreams; and only analyze them within the insecurities of waking consciousness. Along with skillfully achieving a syncretic texture to his tale, del Toro has likewise achieved immersion within dream experience irregardless of logic. That it is placed alongside authoritarian, fascist, horrific reality only emphasizes the seemingly irreconcilable fit. But then, that's what poetry does. Its aim is to leap over disparate valences and link together incongruencies in a way that we visualize differently.

I disagree that this movie was made for teenagers. This movie, as I argue about the fairytales, is for adults. We complain that the movie is too violent for children, but, we fear (and know, I think) that it is nearly too violent for adults.

When I am not so tired, tomorrow, I will look at your further posts.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Wow thanks a lot for your detailed reponse Michael. :) That really made my work worthwhile. I'm glad you disagree, so we can dig deeper into the analysis. And I'm looking forward to your promising interview with Del Toro.

I didn't know Joseph Campbell (what do you recommend to read?), what I got was Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantement.

My cataloging of transgression was a succint generality I admit, each should be considered individualy to understand what authority is provoked and on which level.
But my point regarding fairytales is that usually the benefic and malefic characters are usually clearly defined and rarely switch side. The suspense, would say Hitchcock, works precisely because we know beforehand when the protagonist is doing wrong or not. This end twist is not the archetypal function of fairytales, only a gimmick of contemporean culture.
So when Ofelia eats the grape, it's well in line with the archetypal trangression (temptation to do bad). But when Ofelia disobeys Pan or the fairies, it comes as a surprise, because we do not expect the good advice to be deceiving in a fairytale (to put the ignorant protagonist in a position to know better than the advice given by a benevolent character). We don't imagine Cinderella disobeying the fairy and not turning into a pumpkin after midnight because the threat was a lie...
And here I thought Del Toro breaks this sacred rule, to rebel against the logic of fairytale. A trangressive trial, ok, but a transgression only successful against a known Evil, not against a rule that was identified as Good by the tale structure.

I agree with you that fairy tales archetypes are a combination of various folklore origins, and adult oriented (Grimm's and Andersen's were more cruel and graphic than Disney's). Although the personality construction they describe are one experienced by the child confronting the adult world, early stages of individuation until teenage (oral, anal, phallic stages, Oedipus conflict...). The psychological conflicts of adulthood are much less transforming and overwhelming in intensity.
But what does the "seamless traveling transition" between 2 shots add to the content? A parallel montage is already a juxtaposition implying analogy.

I'm not saying fairytales aren't violent. I'm saying the symbolic form takes violence of death, destruction, sexual abuse is adapted to the oral transmission of fairytales due to the evocative/partial/self-censured imagination of words. The visualisation into images (imposed by an outsider's imagination) is a whole different matter, that's why one can't transpose literally a mythology without questioning the function of images. What is digestible in words is not in images. So the graphic violence (without ellipsis, poetry, allusion, suggestion) of a man's face crashed into pulp, torture, point blank execution, child's death is the vocabulary of gratuitous horror not of the symbolic evocation of fairytales.

I don't understand : "Davis, I suspect, is on the right track when he states that del Toro's is a reclamative act of creation."

Chartres. I've always wondered what the proper procession through the labyrinth should be like... but I think once you're at the center you face the altar and shall proceeds in the nave to the sanctuary, by walking the axis, across the path on the side opposite to the entrance of the labyrinth.
Incidentally this cathedral was build on an ancient druidic sacred site (pre-christian), which happens to be located at the intersection of powerful (curative) telluric forces (magnetic field). Walking this labyrinth around the magnetic source had healing vertues. The procession itself is the folding of a sophisticated number of symetric turns and circle arcs that are identical whether walked from outside to the center or center to the outside. ;)

Like you say, this illustrates perfectly how christianity appropriated the sacred sites and myth of pagan rituals to make the transition to monotheism less brutal. (The "evangelisation" of Africa, South america, Asia by colonial powers used the same syncretic method!)

The syncretism featured in the film is pre-christian, as there is no identifiable fully formed christian codes, they are only hinted or perverted. The catholic syncretism is making sure to convert every pagan symbol into a biblical reference, as if to explain the ancestral tradition with the message of God in hindsight. But in Del Toro's film traces of catholicism are not to be found, while Spain of this timeframe is very devout. So the intentional absence of priest and religious order is suspicious.

The chalk lines are not witnessed by Mercedes only, but by all the rebels who came to resuce Ofelia. If I recall right, the shot begins or moves past the chalk on the wall in a traveling showing the rebels storming into the room from the back of the set. The camera doesn't stop on teh chalk and the rebels don't even point it out or refer to it. So this detai, in passing, is only for the audience to notice, but is one that pertains to the reality of adults (rebels), because these lines had disappeared in Ofelia's fantasy diegesis (in a previous scene). The reason they reappear in a later scene means Ofelia imagined them vanishing. But the only remnant of her (play-pretend) fantasy is her concrete drawing on the wall.
Yes Mercedes introduced Ofelia to the labyrinth, but she is never presented as an ambivalent character, she is an unbeliever, an adult.

It's not the waking consciousness logic I'm arguing, it's precisely the logic of dreams, which is a little shaky in Del Toro's supposed "fantasy". The forces of dreamwork function otherwise. His analogies and transgressions are incoherent with mythological structures.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Guillermo del Toro interviewed by The Guardian (UK) via Drifting

Roots, Bloody Roots by John Maguire at Confessions of a Film Critic. Review of Pan's Labyrinth.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Michael Guillen interviews Guillermo del Toro at The Evening Class

HarryTuttle a dit…

Fascinating Q&A transcript at The Evening Class, full of references and detailing Del Toro's inspiration.

Interview at Sight & Sound

Michael Guillen a dit…

Thanks for the tips of the hat, Harry, always appreciative. I love the cross-pollination of the blogosphere.

I finally have a chance to sit down and respond to your earlier queries. With regard to Joseph Campbell, I would strongly recommend my friend Phil Cousineau's biography, The Hero's Journey, and of Campbell's own work, Myths To Live By is a good place to start, though I'm also quite fond of The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space. From there, if you remain interested, you can venture into his more turgid work.

I'm familiar with Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment and even have it in my library, though I somehow haven't managed to find the right time to read it. I am familiar of its influence on Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods, however.

"But my point regarding fairytales is that usually the benefic and malefic characters are usually clearly defined and rarely switch side[s]." I'm not convinced of that. If, as I suspect, fairy tales carry over energies from pantheistic themes, capriciousness would be a characteristic quality. Allegedlly what eventually convinced Christian converts to abandon pagan gods was not because they were evil, but because they were capricious. Christianity afforded a more secure sense of things, though in truth it's more a promise than a reality.

Again, I think Del Toro has explained himself much better than I can regarding the value of Ofelia's repeated transgressive behavior. Transgression is not necessarily, as you suggest, the temptation to do bad. Transgression is, I believe, more an impulse against external determinants of both good and bad. Thus the adage that--if you meet Buddha on the road, kill him--implying that this ethical binary of good and bad are like the Japanese temple guardians, or the temptations of fear and desire, which are meant to be surpassed and gone through. I disagree that there is a codified logic to fairytales that insist you can transgress against the bad, but not the good.

"A parallel montage is already a juxtaposition implying analogy." Is it? Parallels need not be mutually exclusive nor oppositional. Whatever comparisons are sought tell more about who is seeking the comparisons than the parallels themselves.

"The vocabulary of gratuitous horror" that you apply to the film is, as Guillermo suggested, a device to cut through layers of social fat so that adults can reach a visceral state of terror and wonderment where terror becomes sublime.

Davis's comment: "Del Toro seems to want to co-opt the genre, reclaim it from the world of children's movies to satisfy his own lingering interest in fantasy that has changed into something different from the stories kids enjoy, something psychological and violent, even though it remains firmly connected to childhood" is what I was referring to when I said that Del Toro's is a reclamative act of creation. I think his comments at the Q&A clearly specify that he is wresting the genre away from its Disneyfication to restore it to an original balance between innocence and brutality.

The Chartres labyrinth is replicated here in San Francisco in our own Grace Cathedral and also outside the California Pacific Medical Center. I walk it on occasion.

I made a point of observing the scene where Mercedes and the rebels come to rescue Ofelia. The rebels remain at the doorway. It is Mercedes who comes into the room, moves past Ofelia's bed to notice the chalk door on the other side. Not to belabor a point, but I don't think the rebels could even see it from the doorway.

"It's not the waking consciousness logic I'm arguing, it's precisely the logic of dreams, which is a little shaky in Del Toro's supposed "fantasy". The forces of dreamwork function otherwise. His analogies and transgressions are incoherent with mythological structures."

I just don't agree with that statement at all because, first, there is no monolithic dream logic. Dreams have been interpreted and understood in so many different ways that I think it's dangerous to apply any kind of logic to them. They will remain protean and slip around facile equations. I guess my question would be how you perceive the logic of dreams and what the "function" of dreams might serve. As for his analogies and transgressions being incoherent with mythological structures, we will have to agree to disagree.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thank you for the book references I'll look them up, see if they are available in Paris.

Ok I'm making too broad generalities... but capriciousness if it is present in fairytales wouldn't be the essence of THE Good mentor who is meant to lead the protagonist in the right way. Magic spells are tricky enough, if even moral values aren't reliable the initiation is impossible. The child is asked to make the right decisions against a certain framework. If this framework changes constantely, the child cannot learn any lesson from morality. To keep trusting his own instinct is the default way of a child without moral education. Del Toro's grand dogma of mistrusting the religious authority is trivial (his own experience with bad human clerical institutions) but not archetypal (prevalence of absolute Right values and immuability of the Good Word). You don't educate children by preaching wrong to see if they do right against their parent's advice... and that's the message this film conveys.
Especially if this film is based on christian values (but Del Toro admits he's more of a pantheist himself, and he bends the rules), the word of God is always right. Never men are tested to defy the authority of God, or else they do wrong and perish. And fairytales are largely influenced by Christian values.
But maybe, as he suggests, fairytales today should be about the trangression of the moral establishment. I don't know, it's a pretty bold statement to make...

Conversion to Christianity wasn't marketing persuasion to prove people were better off with Christian security... it was made by the extermination of pagan culture, burning people, terror and moral police. They had no choice but to submit. It wasn't a choice of their heart.

I didn't know this Buddhist adage, what does it mean? That killing Buddha is ok?

In fairytales, if you trangress against the bad, there are good consequences, if you trangress against the good, there are bad consequences. That's the basic principle to teach children who cannot tell right from wrong. 11 yold is a bit early to ask a kid to get over her parent's death and take care of the baby. To me to hand over the baby to Vidal instead of Pan, was the wrong choice (the film makes it the right choice, but in absolute it was the wrong choice to give an innocent baby to a murderer... the fact he was his daddy didn't mean he was the best person to take care of the baby)

Ok, thanks for looking up the chalk scene. Does she even double-take at the chalk lines?

Well I'm not pretending to define the logic and function of dreams, but rather identify what it is not, which is easier. It's like the difference between the original and a fake. If the essence is reproduced correctly it looks right, but if it's only a superficial ressemblence it looks awkward. And I think Pan's fantasy is a little awkward for the reasons I explained in my posts, but I know I'm being nitpicky. It works. ;)

Michael Guillen a dit…

Harry, I'm having so much fun with you. Thanks for being such a good chess player. Heh.

Mentorship, in and of itself, is a sticky wicket, certainly a temporary one, which plays into the role of the Faun in this film. Mentor, if you recall, was the elder gentleman responsible to bring up Telemechus, the son of Oddyseus, while his father was MIA. Eventually, Mentor (who is something of a father-substitute, as the Faun is a father-substitute) must relinquish his role on Telemechus, not only to his own father who returns home after a long while, but also to the man Telemechus has become in his own right.

Which is to say that mentors usually are turned against at a certain juncture in the development of their wards. They have to be. Otherwise the development cannot occur. The sage mentor, like a sage parent, knows when to let go. Most, it seems, don't. And so you have all sort of spiritual rapes done in the name of guruship. But that's another story.

So in a certain way mentors, like adversaries, are agencies that steer development. They neither guarantee it nor determine it. Between the two they're like the little angel and devil on your right and left shoulders whispering into each ear.

I make a distinction between ethics and morality. It's not an educated one, that's for sure, but it's certainly an experiential one. I have found that ethics refer to social systems of right and wrong, laws, rules, mores. Morality, however, is something much more ambiguous and individual. I've come to think of morality as something authentic in the individual, or something in the individual authentic to his or her fate. This, of course, is frequently at odds with social ethics. Thus the plethora of outlaws, renegades, castaways and all manner of marginal ilk that complicate (one might say enrichen) the social fabric.

I'm sure that the ethical systems that provided a so-called "moral education" to children in the past have fluctuated historically as cultures have changed. One might even think that such a moral education is nothing more than fleecing the flocks. In my case, as a queer male, the Church, my family, my society, through its heterosexist imperatives has repeatedly violated the authentic essence of my queer spirit. This is an unacknowledged cultural child abuse that did not want me to become who I was destined to become. This is an ancient concept. Nature vs. nurture. Or the acorn and the oak theory that James Hillman reintroduced into contemporary parlance. There is nothing trivial about mistrusting religious authority. It is almost mandatory in the modern age. Neither, as nature shows, are values absolute nor the Good Word immutable. When it comes right down to it, whose good word are we talking about? Jesus Christ? Or Paul?

The message of this film is not, as you imply, that it preaches wrongdoing. The message of the film is that sometimes you have to do wrong in order to find out what is right for you. The message of the film is an exploration of the heroic impulse within transgression. But more fundamentally, and you seem to avoid this fact, is that this film is not for children. It was never intended for children. And it certainly shouldn't be shown to children. It's much too violent and the psyches of children would not be able to contain its tensions. This is an adult anti-fascist fairy-tale. It speaks to the child within adults who have either obeyed too blindly or disobeyed enough to discover their core of morality.

I also disagree with your description of the early Christian converts who I believe did, in fact, make a choice with their hearts, turned away from gods that proved too capricious, too at war with themselves, to follow a father-like tribal lord who could promise them security in heaven, if not on earth.

As for whether or not it's ok to kill Buddha if you meet him on the road, I would answer that it is absolutely not ok to kill Buddha; it is mandatory. Of course we're talking about an idea of worship, not a flesh and blood being.

Noel Vera a dit…

Hallo, Harry, Maya, following your debate which I just discovered tonight with much interest; you both seem to be holding your respective ends quite well.

Harry points out that disobeying Pan doesn't make sense, as Pan is a mentor and guide to the child's ethical development. I wonder about that, though--I see Pan as more a creature out of Dodgson, imaginary and not entirely to be trusted. I think you sense that at various points in the film--the threatening way he approaches Ofelia on their second meeting, for example, or the violent way he reacts to Ofelia's first act of disobedience, or the various ways Jones' body langauge speaks alarmingly to Ofelia--and us. When Ofelia freezes with baby in her arms, it felt right to me--her not-too-absolute belief in Pan isn't strong enough to overcome her concern for the child.

Even more complex, I submit, is her eventual reaction to Vidal. Looking at each other, she realized that 1) he has as much right to the child as she does (a thought she may have suppressed or never realized, in the panic to take the baby and fulfill all requiremnts to reenter her kingdom); 2) unlike Pan, who concedes to her (his princess') rejection, Vidal will not take 'no' for an answer, and likely the child will be hurt in the ensuing struggle; and 3) Vidal materialized as the direct consequence to her rejection of Pan--he is, in effect, the price she must pay, the penalty for disobeying Pan (and, it must be remembered, her true father, the king of the underground kingdom).

Emotionally and on almost all points I side with Maya, but Harry does put forth the ultimate argument: how the film measures up against Erice's masterpiece. That's something I have no strong arguments for, nor would I especially want to--Erice is able to suggest violence and perversity and add a fairy-tale element (Frankenstein being of a genre that is, to my mind at least, a subset of fantasy) without conceding anything to Disney.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Sorry I didn't see this comment earlier, Noel.

You're right about the attitude of Ofelia is coherent with Pan's body language in the film. But what I argue is that Del Toro should have written the characters differently because this situation is not coherent with the general message of the film. you can't moralize about Good and Evil if the premise is conceited and fallacious. I mean the tempatation of Pan is not taken to its conclusion (whether it is real or faked). In comparison, if Eve refuses the apple from the snake in the garden of Heaven there is no story! Del Toro wants to make his protagonist smarter than the evil temptation but without failure you don't learn the lesson (at least in the fairytale world). And her death comes after she made the right choice, which is a contradiction with the natural order of Goodness reward, and also a dramatic anti-climax (placing the test of faith before the threat to her own life).

As for the baby, it's not so much about Vidal right to him... but about saving this innocent baby from a psychopathic murderer who didn't prove to be a reliable father up to that point...
If you suggest that Ofelia knew Pan would respect her decision, while Vidal would not, then it makes her choice much less courageous and more complacent, as if she had a double-standard moral according to the person she deals with. which is again against the general message of resistance to authority, no matter what, of the film.
That she puts her life in geopardy to save the baby is a proof of moral and courage, but to sacrifice herself without fighting till the end to keep the baby away from Vidal was not a heroical move (in my books), and is at least confusing the message of the film.

On your last note, I just watched Cria Cuervos (finally), which is not far from Pan's Labyrinth and The Spirit of the Beehive. A wonderful film with a coherent interplay with fantasy (ghost apparitions of the dead mother)