Thursday, October 28, 2010

Short Review: El laberinto del fauni [Pan's Labyrinth] (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)

When I first saw Pan’s Labyrinth in the cinema back at the beginning of 2007, I was confronted by a brutal, yet beautiful fairy tale, and found myself more emotionally moved by any film in a long time. Pan’s Labyrinth is written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (best known at the time for Hellboy) who creates a haunting adult drama that impressively weaves a dual-plot set in a period that closely follows the events of the Spanish Civil War. As jungle guerillas continue to fight General Franco’s regime, Ofelia’s (Ivana Baquero) new stepfather, Captain Vidal, leads an assault to eliminate their presence in the region, while Ofelia, who has a loving connection to her ill and pregnant mother, finds an escape from the horrors of her reality through her vivid imagination. After discovering an ancient labyrinth in the surrounding gardens, she meets and converses with a Faun, who believes that she is the spirit of the princess of the Labyrinth, and assigns her three tasks to be completed by the next full moon to ensure that the ‘essence’ of the princess can remain and be returned to her family.

It is in the fantasy world that the film is most impressive as Ofelia encounters many wonderful creatures on her journey, including persuasive fairies, a giant toad beneath a dying tree and a horrific child-eating monster that Ofelia encounters in the second task. This creature, which sits in front of a giant feast, empowers Ofelia to be tempted by the food (against the advice given by the Faun) and places her in a kind of trance. Before closing in to kill her. It’s a terrifying sequence, and the creature features as a double for Vidal, as he hunts Ofelia in much the same way at the conclusion of the film. Throughout the film Del Toro alludes to the theme that monsters are not intrinsic of ourselves, but extensions of who we are. This is part of the seamless transition the film makes between the worlds and the tasks she undertakes weigh heavily on events in the real world, none more so than when the Faun gives Ofelia a mandrake root to help heal her ill mother.

Facing her fears in the challenges presented by the labyrinth gives Ofelia the courage to oppose her stepfather and help her save her younger brother from a life in his care. The film’s central meaning deals with choices, to think for ourselves or to follow orders, to become a decent human being, or become a monster. In both worlds we see the forces of ‘good’ fighting those of ‘evil’ and witness Ofelia’s childhood innocence challenged by all forces but ultimately returned by her completion of the three tasks. She chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save her younger brother. Ivana Baquero gives an excellent performance as Ofelia. She should become a major talent given the right roles, and the conflict of her innocence and her maturity is beautifully displayed. She is well supported by Sergei Lopez as Vidal and Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes, the housekeeper. Del Toro provides astute direction and technically the film looks immaculate. The sweeping cinematography, the illuminating lighting, the art direction and set design, the costumes and make-up, and the haunting score are all superb. It is one of the great masterpieces of the 21st Century. Del Toro has created a breathtaking, original film that has raised the benchmark in the fairy-tale/gothic horror genre for a long time to come. Visually magnificent, brutally violent, and ultimately perfect.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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