The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth : A Celebration of Subtitles and Cinema and Kids.



I will admit that subtitles can be a barrier but not a deal breaker. If a film is well reviewed or recommended to me by a trusted source, I won’t let subtitles deter me. They can be distracting but not as much so as obviously dubbed voices.

Two of the most memorable foreign-language films of recent times were produced by Guillermo del Toro. These are The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth. They are both Spanish language films with sparse dialogue and haunting images. Since my daughters have been begging for more scary films, we thought that this would be a great way to introduce them to the concept of subtitles.

The Orphanage was an excellent ghost story, set in, you guessed it, an orphanage. It is creepy with very few moments of graphic horror. The film began with Laura and Carlos moving into the former orphanage that Laura spent part of her childhood. Their plan to convert it into a home for children with special needs is derailed when their son goes missing. Their search for their son unravelled the secrets beneath the walls of the orphanage. The result was a very suspenseful, cinematographically beautiful, well acted film with a satisfying conclusion. My kids were enthralled. This film succeeded on many levels. Because the loss of a beloved child is every parent’s nightmare, I found the film truly chilling. Treading toward spoiler territory, it also dealt with bullying, which most kids can empathize with.

Pan’s Labyrinth was a haunting tale about a bookish little girl named Ofelia who was sent to the countryside with her very pregnant mother to join her step-father, in 1944 fascist Spain. Her step-father, a sadistic military captain, was set on crushing resistant fighters. Ofelia escaped the cruelty of her new home life when she met fairies and a faun (or does she?) in the nearby forest. They tell her that she was a princess banished to this horrible place. She was given a quest to succeed at 3 perilous tasks in order to return to her rightful place within the royal family. There were a few terrifying scenes, most memorably when Ofelia was slow chased by a monster. Despite having seen it before, abeit several years ago, I found this film completely engaging. I was delighted that my daughters did too.

Love serves as a thematic common thread with these two films. How love guides original story-telling and wonderfull cinematography makes these films exceptional. Pan’s Labyrinth was nominated for 6 Oscars and won 3 (Cinematography, Art Direction and Makeup). Revisiting these films was a fun way to approach subtitles with daughters who crave scary films.


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  1. Trackback: Shape of Water: a review | What is Ann Watching?

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