Review: Pan's Labyrinth

[image title=”ofelialarge” size=”thumbnail” id=”435″ align=”right” linkto=”” ]Everyone loves fairy tales. They’re the cornerstone of childhood reading and are fascinating to both the children and the adult who’s reading it to them. Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale, with good and evil duking it out, fantastic creatures and places, and a wonderous main character who learns a lot during the film.

Set in Spain at the end of the second world war, the film shows part of the brutal and bloody environment that many Spaniards had to endure. Franco’s Fascists had seized Spain and were busying themselves with the butchering of Leftist Rebels.

Enter Ofelia. A ten year old girl who, along with her ailing and heavily pregnant mother, are on their way to a small mill in the Spanish mountain region. There they are to live with her new and incredibly wicked stepfather, the fascist Captain Vidal. And while the Fascists are slaughtering rebels, and her mother is growing sicker while carrying the Captain’s child, Ofelia finds a Labyrinth with the help of a fairy.

Pan’s Labyrinth is set in war-torn Spain, towards the end of the second world war. For those who don’t know, the Fascists – led by Franco – came out on top at the end of WWII, and were in power until 1978. It’s a bloody story in itself, and the perfect place for a dark fairy tale. Because at the end of the day, that’s what this film is. A fairy tale. Although I wouldn’t recommend that you take the kiddies along – It’s a bit too bloody for that.

So here we are at the start of Franco’s Spain. Isolated pockets of Leftist Rebels fight against the Fascists, but are having a tough time of it. Enter Ofelia.

Ofelia is ten years old. She and her ailing, heavily pregnant mother are on their way to an isolated mill where her new stepfather – the terrible Captain Vidal – is fighting to destroy a local cell of leftist rebels. With her mother sick and her new stepfather a brutal and opressive human monster, the young Ofelia is led into a Labyrinth one evening by a fairy.

Within the Labyrinth, she meets a frightening but friendly satyr, who tells her that she is the princess of a long forgotten underworld kingdom, that her father has been waiting for her return for many years and that to get back in to the underworld empire she must complete his three tasks without question or hesitation.

So off she goes. Completing the satyr’s tasks and seeing incredible and fascinating things while her wicked stepfather tries to wipe out the resistance by any bloody means necessary, and her mother gets sicker and sicker while carrying the Captain’s child.

The performances are incredible, and help to make the film such a treat to watch. Ivana Baquero shines as Ofelia, managing to emotionally charge scenes which are heavily laden with special effects – an incredible task, especially for so young an actor. I’ve seen plenty of older actors in similar situations, and it seems that the actor is only there for filler while you look at the incredible effects. In Baquero’s case, she is still the star of the scene and the effects are merely there to amplify the strength of her performance. Maribel Verdu is captivating as Ofelia’s mother and Sergi Lopez is an unfathomable human monster while playing Captain Vidal.

But no matter how good the performances are – and they’re pretty damned good – at the end of the day it’s all about what Del Toro can make you see and feel during the film. His innovative and exciting visual style is employed in every scene. His fantasy sequences are incredible, as he – unlike many modern directors – is almost experimental with his special effects. Where others might make an entire scene with computer graphics, Del Toro has opted for a mixed approach – practical effects, computer animation, exquisite makeup, modeling, and much more. These scenes have a terrible beauty as they contrast the peace of nature and fantasy with the brutal acts of war in the real world.

So, leave the kiddies at home and check out this incredible fairy tale for adults. It’s gripping, captivating and a feast for the eyes with stunning images and characters. But don’t be surprised if these things make it past your eyes and into the places of dreams and nightmares.


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