I enjoy reading stories or watching films in other languages, or that have an element of translation, perhaps written by people with different native languages; I love to find little imported nuggets in the text, a scattering of foods and fabrics from far away. An addition to the sense of other-world, that helps me feel transported.
So as my son wrestled with his Spanish revision, I said, let’s watch something in Spanish. We picked Pan’s Labyrinth, a Guillermo Del Toro Gothic fairy tale about a little girl called Ofelia who, set against the backdrop of post civil war Spain in which the Falangists and Maquis wage guerrilla battles in the forest, lives out her own dark, magic fable in the labyrinth behind their new house. I don’t speak Spanish but it was a chance to learn (and the film is subtitled).
People, it’s not for kids. It’s a 15 but it could have been an 18 because this is not a Beauty and the Beast to share with younger children.
The film is beautifully written and produced, but also shocking, containing torture scenes of astonishing premeditated, layered human cruelty perpetrated by the military stepfather, and the nuanced horror of child-eating fairy tale monsters whose acts of terror are triggered by moments of perhaps inevitable, understandable human weakness. It’s hard to watch, but since I don’t speak Spanish and was reliant on the subtitles, I couldn’t close my eyes, so I followed the brave and compassionate Ofelia through her real and magical intertwined journeys, each as dark and perilous as each other, until she found her ending.
It does not spare the audience.
It’s a film that will stay with me, for its use of language, it’s cinematic craft, and its ruthless execution. I don’t normally blog about films but this one stuck out; it will be filed somewhere between Maleficent and Kill Bill for content, but it has its own slot as an experience.
Next: also by Del Toro, we’ll watch The Devil’s Backbone.