This weekend I managed to get out to see PAN'S LABYRINTH, the acclaimed foreign film from the guy who directed HELLBOY. I can't remember his name now and the firewall prevents me from looking it up, but I believe he also did BLADE 2, KRONOS and that Mira Sorvino movie about giant subway bugs.
The director's history is important here because the project is really really odd, in the same way that LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL is odd. (What the hell is that guy's name? Benicio Del Toro? Nawww.) Just as Roberto Begnini got sparks by rubbing his normal goofy persona against the very serious subject of concentration camps, this movie gets its biggest charge from putting a monster fantasy in a brutal fascist command post in Franco's Spain.
I'll avoid as many spoilers as I can here. Suffice it to say that it structurally winds up being two stories, both of which would be well-made but so-so movies in their own right, but when you put them together they augment each other in surprising ways. And because the fantasy element is so well integrated it makes for an ending which is both heart-breakingly tragic and transcendentally joyous. I love it when a movie fixes it so that it can have it both ways. This also goes for the fascist captain, well played by... uh, some Spanish guy. He gives his cruelty a full humanity which paradoxically makes him less sympathetic, because you realize that he's capable of avoiding such monstrous behavior but he chooses not to.
Since I'm a moonbat liberal I'll add that, yes, he is a Fascist who tortures his victims and that seems much much too familiar nowadays. Note to my friends at Townhall.com... there is a reason why the torturers are always the villains in movies. Torture is evil! Even Jack Bauer has a pretty rotten life. Fascists have only fared well in movies directed by Leni Riefenstahl. I hope you see where I'm going with this.
Guillermo Del Toro. I knew it would come to me.