Oscar Winner “Pan’s Labyrinth” Debuts at The Smith

The winner of three Academy Awards including cinematography and art direction, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” screens at 7 p.m. on March 31, April 2 and 3 and at 2 p.m. on April 1 at the Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca Street.Written and directed by Mexico’s Guillermo Del Toro, “Pan’s Labyrinth” artfully fuses a war film with a family melodrama and a fairy tale. The result is visually stunning and emotionally shattering. Though graphically violent in parts, it still manages to be enchanting.The unlikely heroine of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a little girl who gets through the grim aftermath of the Spanish Civil War by losing herself in folklore and fantasy stories. Her mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), is taking Ofelia with her to a remote village to meet her new father, a sadistic Fascist captain named Vidal (Sergi López) who is leading a mopping up operation against Loyalist holdouts scattered in nearby hills.Although Carmen, physically frail and pregnant with Captain Vidal’s son, urges Ofelia to make the best of her new life, she’s desperately lonely in her cold surroundings: The captain’s huge, dark house — he has turned an abandoned mill into his military headquarters — creaks and groans at night as if it were alive; there are ghastly creatures carved into the posts of the bed she shares with her mother. Her only friends are the cherished books she has brought with her and the captain’s sympathetic but cautious servant, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú, of “Y Tu Mamá También”), who is secretly spiriting food and medicine to the rebel fighters who live in the nearby forest, still hoping to overthrow Franco’s oppressive government.And then a greenish, buzzing insect that Ofelia befriended in the forest just before her arrival reappears to her and transforms, before her eyes, into a tiny flying man. He leads her to an underground lair where a strange faun (Doug Jones), with curly ram’s horns and piercing feline eyes, reveals her true identity to her: He believes she is really Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld. But before that’s certain, she must perform three dangerous tasks.Ofelia’s — and del Toro’s — fantasy universe includes a secret garden with mysterious dead ends and passageways, and a miniature kingdom beneath the roots of a gnarled tree, where a fat king toad lives atop a carpet of mud and millipedes. At one point Carmen makes a new dress for Ofelia, a dark-green pinafore that’s intended to impress the captain. On this very serious-looking little girl, with her dark bobbed hair and even darker eyes, the dress is an inversion of the cheerful blue frock worn by Alice in Wonderland. But in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the through-the-looking-glass world and the real one are one and the same. The horrors of Ofelia’s real life (her mother’s dangerous and difficult pregnancy; her stepfather’s murderous indifference to her) are barely distinguishable from the fantasy obstacles she faces.Twelve-year-old Baquero anchors the film with her mature performance. She quietly, poignantly conveys the melancholy that engulfs Ofelia, and then shows courage and determination in her imaginary world. López as Captain Vidal ranks up there with classic cinematic villains. And Verdú as Mercedes is also a marvel, an actress able to express rage, kindness, caring, strength and integrity.”Pan’s Labyrinth” boldly captures the horror of war, the bloody violence as well as the emotional stifling of the soul, and juxtaposes it with the enchantment of a nether land bathed in hope and eternity.This is del Toro’s sixth feature, and it’s not only one of the great fantasy pictures but one of the great end-of-childhood elegies. The movie’s political undercurrents run deep and strong, but del Toro isn’t interested in ideological screeds — in fact, he greatly distrusts blind ideology, as he has shown in earlier pictures like the resonant comic-book fable “Hellboy” and the astonishing “The Devil’s Backbone” (set a few years earlier than, and in many ways a warm-up for, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” although the picture stands tall on its own).”Pan’s Labyrinth” works on so many levels that it seems to change shape even as you watch it. It is, at times, a joyless picture, and its pall of sadness can begin to weigh you down. But that’s part of del Toro’s intent, and of his technique. At one point the faun — whose motives are never quite clear, either to us or to Ofelia — expresses his displeasure with her, accusing her of being weak, of being only human. He tells her that, like others of her kind, she’s destined to die: “All memory of you will fade in time.”That’s a horrifying thing to hear, and not just when you’re a child. But del Toro doesn’t buy this cruel taunt, and with “Pan’s Labyrinth” he disproves it. Memories are carried in myths and stories; that’s one way they survive. All those dragons slain and stepparents defied: None of it has been in vain. If fairy tales were all simply pretty, they wouldn’t have stuck with us, awake and asleep, for so many centuries.In Spanish with English subtitles, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is rated R and has a running time of one hour, 54 minutes. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Call 315-781-LIVE (5483) or toll-free 866-355-LIVE (5483) for details or to order tickets. Tickets may also be purchased on-line at www.TheSmith.org.The Smith Opera House is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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