Pan's Labyrinth, the latest film from Mexican horror director, Guillermo del Toro, went on limited general release yesterday (Friday) and earlier this week I went to a screening of the film at the NFT that was followed by an interview/Q & A session with the director.
The film was introduced by film critic Mark Kermode as "the Citizen Kane of the fantasy world" which is a rather silly claim to make, but probably one to be expected from a critic who STILL seems to think that The Exorcist is the best film ever made. I enjoy Mark's review programme on Radio 5 (and downloadable via podcast) and his very individual style, but sometimes he can get somewhat carried away!
That being said, Pan's Labyrinth (actually called 'The Fawn's Labyrinth' in its native Spanish) is a wonderful film, albeit one that is extremely violent in places. I've very much enjoyed what I've seen of the director's previous work - Mimic and Hellboy, if we're being precise - but this was the first film I'd seen in the director's native language (it's an English subtitled movie) and which apparently he's been able to make without any external interferences. It's currently being advertised as a fairy tale for adults, and there's a danger that with the fantasy elements that are appearing in magazines and reviews, people will think this is a movie for children, which it most definitely isn't. I won't say any more because there are reviews everywhere, but suffice to say this is a powerful, affecting film that I think is genuinely deserving of the 'masterpiece' accolade that many critics are throwing at it.
The Q & A session I attended after the screening was a little disappointing, because it merely repeated everything that had already been covered in Kermode's article on the film that appeared in the December issue of Sight & Sound. I also felt that Kermode could have been better prepared and more focused with his questions, rather than adopting the 'Me, me, me!' lecturing style which works well on radio, but not so well when your job is to interview a guest. However Guillermo is always good value for money (I'd enjoyed hearing him speak at Comic Con in San Diego when he was promoting the upcoming Hellboy) and it was good to hear him speak directly about the film, and the nightmares of his past experiences in film-making. The special effects in the film are fantastic, and it's amazing to learn that the film only had a budget of 13.5 million Euro's - it looks like a far bigger budgeted movie.
After the screening I went for a bite to eat with friends Brian and David, and the meal had a couple of surprises (aside from the Christmas menu, featuring a Christmas pizza, that was already in place mid-November). We found ourselves on a table opposite Michael Palin and then an old friend/former work colleague from IBM that I hadn't seen for a year or so appeared from nowhere to say hi.
Pan's Labyrinth is apparently a 'sister movie' to Guillermo's earlier film The Devil's Backbone and I'm now seeking it out on DVD. But Pan's Labyrinth is a masterpiece in its own right and I encourage any readers over the age of 16 to go and see it. It's encouraging that in the homogenised world of the braindead 'blockbuster' (I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2 last week - enough said!) there are still individual, independent film-makers out there able to make films as original and classy as this. Highly recommended!