Monday, September 11, 2006

2006 TIFF--El Laberinto del Fauno / Pan's Labyrinth

Yesterday morning I felt faint from hunger, rushing out of Mack's without breakfast or even a cup of coffee to secure a ticket for Pan's Labyrinth at Best Bets. There I was reeling on the curbside, dodging the light like Blanche DuBois, mumbling to myself that I just couldn't eat one more hotdog no matter how cheap they were (not for breakfast!), and--encouraged by the everwise ghost of Tennessee--relied upon the kindess of a stranger I stopped on the street. "Please," I begged, "do you know where I can get a good breakfast?" "Sure," she smiled, "go down a block to Bay, hang a left and down about another block on the lefthand side is a diner called Eggstasy."

Eggstasy!! Whose logo is a grinning egg, recently deceased, with angel wings and a chef's hat. Where for about eight bucks you can get eggs with "baggage"; i.e., your choice of meat, hash browns, and a short stack and, believe it or not, real (I said REAL, boys and girls) Canadian maple syrup! And coffee in a mug you can get a grip on. And gay boy waiters with pierced eyebrows and lord knows what else. Ahhhhhh. Eggstasy. They in turn directed me to Webfusi@n, a state-of-the-art internet cafe on Yonge street where I can wile away hours between screenings to peck out a meager perception or two while TIFF roars around me.

I'm not so sure about the United States anymore, but in Canada there is a God.

My ticket of Pan's Labyrinth firmly in hand, I rushed down to the Elgin Theater to secure a place in line, which was already forming in both directions, both for ticketholders and rush hopefuls. After a brief coldspell, Toronto was being bathed in warm autumnal light and the afternoon was made even warmer by the arrival of Kato from The WELL who took the time to come meet me. We talked about her screenwriting career in Canadian television and a hopeful prospect she has going on down in Los Angeles and I told her, when you're ready, let me interview you for The Evening Class. Screenwriters don't get their fair due and I want to rectify that.

Both director Guillermo del Toro and actress Ivana Baquero (who plays the child protagonist Ofelia) were present to introduce El Laberinto del Fauno / Pan's Labyrinth in the historic and beautiful Elgin Theater, who--along with its companion the Winter Garden--comprise the last stacked Edwardian theaters in the world. By way of introduction, Guillermo recalled that when he brought The Devil's Backbone to TIFF some years past, he left Toronto to Los Angeles feeling elated that his dark fable about the horrors of war and the loss of innocence had been so well-received. That was September 10. The next morning the world was turned upside down by the attacks on the World Trade Center. He felt compelled to return to the atmosphere of The Devil's Backbone with his follow-up dark fable Pan's Labyrinth, which dazzles and disturbs in equal measure, once again bemoaning the loss of innocence in the face of terror, though as the byline for Pan's Labyrinth suggests: Innocence has a power Evil cannot imagine.

And what imaginings!! Fierce, unflinching, cruel, creative, rendered in a dark pallette to suit their oppressive, Facsist setting. Stick dragonflies morph into fairies. Old labyrinthine stones harbor ancient legends and it's there that the fairies lead Ofelia to Pan, who self-effacingly refers to himself as a faun, when in truth he is a lord of the earth with a ram's crown, scented with leaf-molded earth, chthonic to his bark-encrusted core. In the bug-infested rootbowl of a dying ancient tree, Ofelia encounters an obese toad who has swallowed a golden key whose retrieval is one of several necessary tasks assigned to her by the faun in hopes that an old order can be restored as prophecied. He provides Ofelia with a magical piece of chalk which will open doorways through thick stone to lead her into the hidden corridors of the psyche's alterity. Therein, she is tempted by hell's banquet and encounters one of the most horrific creations of cinema: the palefaced eater of children whose eyes, embedded in the palms of his hands, is the stuff of nightmares. Run, your heart screams as it chases after Ofelia, RUN!!

But who are the true monsters? These dark denizens of the underworld who Ofelia confidently masters? Or the facsist military men who govern the film's overworld story and whose unyielding grip masters her? Ofelia's step-father, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) ranks with Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) from The Devil's Backbone as characters of vicious, unbridled virility, irreparably scarred by their own fathers, to maintain a regime of death and destruction. It is no accident they are handsome and erotic. And it is no accident that del Toro does not shy away from the fates of children in the hands of men like these. We are gifted that del Toro has seared celluloid with the rapacious claws and loving caresses of his imagination. He deserved his standing ovation.

Pan's Labyrinth is a film I will return to over and over again when I am feeling most real and have lost hope. Through the magic of del Toro's cinema, blood can course back to the source of its wound and one flower blooms on an ancient tree thought dead.

Twitch teammate Todd Brown has written eloquently on the film.