I love stories and films in non-English languages, or that have an element of translation; I love to find the nuggets of a new phrase or cadence, or a scattering of foods and fabrics from far away, enhancing the sense of journeying to another place.
So as my son wrestled with his Spanish revision, I said, let’s watch something in Spanish. We picked a film recently recommended to us as part of a college course: 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).
A college film, age 15, recommended. What nicer way to spend a day learning?
Holy shit, it was not.
Spoiler: it’s so violent! A terrible (original meaning) violence: premeditated, cruel, entitled, unhindered, evil. A man bashes a child’s face in with a pistol butt in front of the child’s father.
The film is beautifully written and produced, but also shocking, with layered human cruelty perpetrated by the military stepfather, matched in a fairy tale nether world by 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 beautifully crafted, relatable, intriguing, and will echo with human what-ifs long after the closing titles.
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.
Do I recommend it? Mnnnyyyyeeeah, yeah but not for kids. Not for kids. Ever. It should be an 18. I may watch it again, maybe.
Next: also by Del Toro, we’ll watch The Devil’s Backbone.