It was a Del Toro! Toro! Toro! Weekend around TAI -- here's the TicketStub:

* The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth -- Nat and I watched the former on DVD before seeing the latter at the Somerville Theater, and all I have to say is, Huzzah! It seems magical realism is alive and well, at least in the Mexican cinema, where one of its greatest examples emerged. The two films neatly bookend each other as their stories are remarkably similar, both filled with rich archetypes and riveting visuals. Both take place in the remote Spanish countryside during the Civil War and Franco's regime, and follow a sensitive child protagonist through an encounter with mystery and danger. Like all good fairy tales (or cuentos de hadas, to our heroine Ofelia), these stories illuminate the hard truths of reality by the tricksy light of secret cellars and moonlit woods. These children are in real peril -- from the war (in TDB there is literally a bombshell waiting to go off in the courtyard of the boys' school), from their own foibles, and most painfully from the neglect, helplessness, or sheer sadism of the adults watching over them. Director Guillermo del Toro weaves an unsettling spell by alternating moments of disbelief between the real and the imaginary: was that a ghost? A fairy? A wooden leg? Did that man really just murder in cold blood? I enjoyed the seesawing between wonder and horror in both, although Nat found the violence in PL too graphic, and it could certainly have been inferred that men are tortured and shot, rather than shown in brutal closeup. To me, it gave the film a muscular insistence that wish as we might, bad things to happen to good people, even kids, in this world...but maybe that's an academic cop-out. Either way, the stories unfold with great tension, because you don't know what weirdness is coming next. TDB follows Carlos, a war orphan, as he tries to unravel the mystery lurking in his school basement, the site of a callous killing and some oversized slugs, ugh. PL's Ofelia is a spunky waif shipped out to the country with her ailing, pregnant mother, waiting for the birth of her evil stepfather's heir. Carlos befriends a vengeful ghost, Ofelia falls in with a cunning faun -- and both try to complete a series of impossible tasks. They succeed, but at great cost, and while there's some satisfying comeuppance for the villains there is a great, bloody denouement to each tale. Just like adolescence. Major extra points for spot-on production design, like English Patient-level evocation of wartime deprivations, and gently placed special effects. (A+)

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