Another film review...
Easy enough to say that this movie is about a young girl and her pregnant mother, caught up in the Spanish Civil War. Easy to say that the girl escapes from time to time into a living fairytale. Much harder to tell where the fairytale begins and ends and to divine the relationship between it and the real world – or indeed to decide whether fauns and fairies and giant toads aren’t in fact more real that the brutal world of her stepfather, the fascist captain who is trying to eradicate the last communist fighters from the wooded mountains.
People tell the girl she is too old to be reading books of fairy stories, but they in turn are following narratives of their own imaginations. Even the captain, who dwells on the story of his father’s military heroism and is obsessed with the fantasy of having a son of his own and then dying in battle.
The motif of the labyrinth is everywhere, physically as a stone maze on the edge of the forest, visually in the elegant cinematography where long tracking shots take you on unexpected journeys, sometimes back to where you started, and metaphorically in the film’s many narratives, some of which reach their goals while others come to a dead end.
The violence of the war and the sadism of the captain make parts of this film hard to watch and I had to look away from the screen once or twice. Perhaps it was the proximity of an innocent girl that made the dehumanising violence depicted in the film so disturbing.
But for all that, this is a film I will have to see again, perhaps many times. The themes and images are so subtly layered that they dwell long after the credits have rolled. They leave questions in the mind and might even change the way you see the world. What more can be asked of any work of art?