January 14th, 2007

Baltar/Six pain enchain

Battle of the Critically Acclaimed Mexican Directors!

In the last month or so, two Mexican directors released films to much critical acclaim. And so, while Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth have nothing to do with each other, I am discussing them together.

I had heard nothing but amazing things about Children of Men. It was the best movie of the year, the best movie of the decade, the best movie since sliced bread, etc. So my expectations were pretty damn high, and they were bound to be crushed, especially since upanashad and I sat in the second row. Also, I fell asleep for ten minutes or so. I'm just trying to make excuses here. I think horsefacehannah has the best assessment I've seen:
As an experience, this movie is absolutely the best I've seen in ages. As a movie it's just ok, as a political statement it's pretty useless, but there are some scenes that just completely paralyzed me.
My assessment is that the movie is great filmmaking but not great storytelling. I loved the look and feel of the movie. I loved that the Vision of the Future was so detailed that while you were rarely told about the state of things, you could put together pieces by looking at slogans on posters and graffiti on the walls if you could read it while the camera was moving. The attention to detail was truly astounding; I felt like Cuarón was actually filming in this world because Christ, how could he have made it so perfectly?

The camerawork is also phenomenally impressive. There is an unedited shot in the first half hour or so that just boggled my mind because I could not figure out how he did it. And even when I looked up how he did it, it was still impressive because the unedited shots in this movie are not just cool tracking shots. Shit happens. A lot. And to think of the number of takes to coordinate it all and the intensity and energy involved is just...wow. There is another unedited shot near the end that is actually two masquerading as one (I couldn't spot an edit, but I knew the camera had changed for reasons that will become clear when you see the movie). And I swear the movie is worth seeing just for these unedited shots. Because they put you right in the action and you can't get away and the camera won't let you leave and you fear for your own safety because you are there.

If I had gone into the movie ready to enjoy the technical achievement and nothing else, I would have been much happier. Because I was very disappointed in the actual story, which was practically nonexistent. I didn't feel emotionally connected to the characters, and the moments where I was presumably supposed to cry felt cheap and easy. I didn't feel like the movie ended up saying anything at all, when it was so clearly trying so hard.

For weeks, the movie ate at me...but not because it was making me think about it. It was making me think about why didn't I love it like everyone else in the damn world?! It was so confusing because when I looked up reviews and read people's comments, it seemed that everything they loved about it, I also loved about it. I thought maybe I just had a Cuarón block because I didn't think Y Tu Mamá También was hot shit either. It really bugged me that I didn't love it, and I would give it a second chance, though I don't feel like paying for it.

So I was wary of all the hype surrounding Pan's Labyrinth, which was similarly superlative. I didn't have a Del Toro block, though, as I had enjoyed Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy, though only the last one seemed remotely personal in a "Del Toro movie" sense.

Pan's Labyrinth is really, really good. I took a class on German fairy tales, so I loved how closely it followed standard fairy tale tropes. And I'm talking actual fairy tales, not Disney-fied fairy tales. The kind where the little mermaid turns to sea foam and witches gobble up little children and sausages talk. I didn't know how much I wanted a "fairy tale for adults" until I got one.

One major caveat/word of warning: the marketing is extremely misleading (surprise!). I would say the fantasy elements comprise a mere 15% of the movie; the bulk of the film takes place in a post-Spanish Civil War setting where fascists are crushing the remaining insurgents. And the real-world elements make a good movie in and of themselves, really, but the fantasy stuff is so good that I wanted a lot more of it, but the more I think about it, the more I can't see it being any other way because Del Toro made it this way for a reason and to shift the balance would change the movie into something else. Because the movie isn't necessarily a fantasy, it's about the need for fantasy, the way fantasy creeps into the real world. And so it makes sense that it only creeps into the movie as well. (That being said, I wouldn't say no to, like, a Pan's Labyrinth 2 that deals exclusively with the fantasy world.)

While I'm warning people, I should also say that, yes, this movie is definitely not for the kiddies. Things can get pretty graphic at times, almost gratuitously so (not in a buckets-of-blood way but a do-we-really-need-to-see-this way).

What I love about the movie is the way it works on so many levels and weaves in so many themes effortlessly. It's perfectly enjoyable and compelling on the surface, the story of a young girl in a war-torn environment who escapes into a fantasy world and the story of a grown woman who believed in fantasies when she was a girl but is now forced to live in this world, but there's all this hidden meat. I feel like it's saying a lot of things without even trying, just by the nature of the story. And the more I discuss it, the better it gets. I think Del Toro gets it:
Because I believe in parables more than I believe in political speech. And I think that parables have the chance to move you spiritually or emotionally and affect you emotionally. And political speech, if you don't agree with it, it just makes a little static on your brain. It's argumentative. It's not emotional....The difference is parable over more of a pamphlet political. Parable does not need to affect a particular outcome of an election or a vote or things like that. Parable discusses general issues.
Maybe Cuarón and Del Toro should team up to make a totally awesome movie (although Cuarón was a producer on Pan's Labyrinth, and Del Toro came up with the ending to Y Tu Mamá También).

I really need to see The Devil's Backbone now, as it's apparently a companion piece to this movie, and upanashad says it's better. Pan's Labyrinth, however, is the best movie I've seen in theatres in months.

Poll #906679 Superhyped Movie Deathmatch!

Which movie do you like better?

Children of Men
Pan's Labyrinth
I liked them both equally.
I hated them both!
...why are we comparing them again?