• Pan’s Labyrinth

    by  • January 22, 2007 • Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

    Written and Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
    Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
    Rated: R for graphic violence and some language.
    Parental Notes: This is not a kid’s movie. The casual, graphic violence will be too extreme for youngsters, and the philosophical content will likely bore them.


    The Spanish Civil War was a brutal struggle between the forces of fascism, led by Franco, and the loyalists of the old Spanish republic. The loyalists lost. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is set shortly after that defeat, during the mopping-up of the remaining loyalist troops. This was a dark time for Spain, and the film reflects that, both in the real-life story surrounding our heroine and in the fantastical one she imagines for herself. This dark fantasy is very reminiscent of the original Grimm fairy tales: full of violence, fright, love, innocence, and with a lesson at its core.
    As the film opens, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling with her very pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil). They are headed for the outpost Carmen’s new husband, Capitan Vidal (Sergi López) commands. Capitan Vidal has been charged with wiping out the remaining loyalist guerrilla forces in the forest near an old mill, and he is eagerly working to do so. He has sent for Carmen and Ofelia because, as he puts it, he wants his son to be born in the new, clean Spain he is building. He has no doubts that he child will be a son.
    Ofelia discovers that there is an old, crumbling labyrinth in the forest near the mill and soon is shaping fantasies blending what she has read in her many fairy tale books with the reality around her. She meets a faun in the labyrinth and is told that she bears the soul of an underworld princess. If she can complete three tasks by the full moon, the faun says, she will be able to return to the underworld and live with her father, the king, forever.
    The film alternates between cruel, violent reality, where fascists and guerrillas battle and people are killed almost without thought, and the beautiful, strange fantasy Ofelia often inhabits. Both are shot with beautiful camera work. Each scene has its own color palette to suit its events, and the steadicam shots pull the audience into the action effortlessly.
    The actors give top-notch performances, although for an American audience they have the added advantage of working behind subtitles — somehow nearly anything seems more interesting and serious if it is said in another language. Even so, the performances ring true.
    Baquero is spot-on as Ofelia. Ofelia is brave and kindhearted, but she is also very young and naive. Baquero brings out these qualities and never for a moment seems to be acting. She simply inhabits the role. The two women who affect Ofelia the most, her mother Carmen and the servant Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), are spot-on as well. Gil gracefully walks a difficult tightrope as a woman who undeniably adores her daughter but has brought them both to live with a very dangerous man. Verdú makes Mercedes believable as both a servant and as an undercover member of the guerrillas
    The centerpiece performance, in some ways, is López is as the Capitan. Vidal is a true fascist — he follows orders without question, expects to be obeyed without question, and those who do not conform to his world view are dealt with very harshly. Those who remember López from his titular role the French film “A Friend Like Harry” will not be surprised that he makes the Capitan believable as someone who sees himself as noble while doing horrifying things. He is a villain straight out of a fairy tale — and yet, there are hints of humanity in him which make him all too human.
    “Pan’s Labyrinth” has been advertised as a fantasy and a fairy tale, but it is no children’s movie. It shows the cruelty of the fascist soldiers and the desperation of the guerrilla fighters with enough realism to make even this hardened reviewer blanch. There is gore aplenty, as well as the casual death-dealing that only a villain like Vidal can offer. It isn’t a slash fest, though; there is a quiet thread of philosophizing about obedience and authority, as well as an examination of the role fairy tales play in human lives.
    Ultimately, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a movie for grownups who love fairy tales but do not have illusions about them. If you like the original Grimm tales, you will probably adore “Pan’s Labyrinth.” If Disney takes on the Grimm originals are more your speed, you should see something else.
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Ealasaid A. Haas
    Written and Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
    Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
    Rated: R for graphic violence and some language.
    Parental Notes: This is not a kid’s movie. The casual, graphic violence will be too extreme for youngsters, and the philosophical content will likely bore them.
    The Spanish Civil War was a brutal struggle between the forces of fascism, led by Franco, and the loyalists of the old Spanish republic. The loyalists lost. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is set shortly after that defeat, during the mopping-up of the remaining loyalist troops. This was a dark time for Spain, and the film reflects that, both in the real-life story surrounding our heroine and in the fantastical one she imagines for herself. This dark fantasy is very reminiscent of the original Grimm fairy tales: full of violence, fright, love, innocence, and with a lesson at its core.
    As the film opens, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling with her very pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil). They are headed for the outpost Carmen’s new husband, Capitan Vidal (Sergi López) commands. Capitan Vidal has been charged with wiping out the remaining loyalist guerrilla forces in the forest near an old mill, and he is eagerly working to do so. He has sent for Carmen and Ofelia because, as he puts it, he wants his son to be born in the new, clean Spain he is building. He has no doubts that he child will be a son.
    Ofelia discovers that there is an old, crumbling labyrinth in the forest near the mill and soon is shaping fantasies blending what she has read in her many fairy tale books with the reality around her. She meets a faun in the labyrinth and is told that she bears the soul of an underworld princess. If she can complete three tasks by the full moon, the faun says, she will be able to return to the underworld and live with her father, the king, forever.
    The film alternates between cruel, violent reality, where fascists and guerrillas battle and people are killed almost without thought, and the beautiful, strange fantasy Ofelia often inhabits. Both are shot with beautiful camera work. Each scene has its own color palette to suit its events, and the steadicam shots pull the audience into the action effortlessly.
    The actors give top-notch performances, although for an American audience they have the added advantage of working behind subtitles — somehow nearly anything seems more interesting and serious if it is said in another language. Even so, the performances ring true.
    Baquero is spot-on as Ofelia. Ofelia is brave and kindhearted, but she is also very young and naive. Baquero brings out these qualities and never for a moment seems to be acting. She simply inhabits the role. The two women who affect Ofelia the most, her mother Carmen and the servant Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), are spot-on as well. Gil gracefully walks a difficult tightrope as a woman who undeniably adores her daughter but has brought them both to live with a very dangerous man. Verdú makes Mercedes believable as both a servant and as an undercover member of the guerrillas
    The centerpiece performance, in some ways, is López is as the Capitan. Vidal is a true fascist — he follows orders without question, expects to be obeyed without question, and those who do not conform to his world view are dealt with very harshly. Those who remember López from his titular role the French film “A Friend Like Harry” will not be surprised that he makes the Capitan believable as someone who sees himself as noble while doing horrifying things. He is a villain straight out of a fairy tale — and yet, there are hints of humanity in him which make him all too human.
    “Pan’s Labyrinth” has been advertised as a fantasy and a fairy tale, but it is no children’s movie. It shows the cruelty of the fascist soldiers and the desperation of the guerrilla fighters with enough realism to make even this hardened reviewer blanch. There is gore aplenty, as well as the casual death-dealing that only a villain like Vidal can offer. It isn’t a slash fest, though; there is a quiet thread of philosophizing about obedience and authority, as well as an examination of the role fairy tales play in human lives.
    Ultimately, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a movie for grownups who love fairy tales but do not have illusions about them. If you like the original Grimm tales, you will probably adore “Pan’s Labyrinth.” If Disney takes on the Grimm originals are more your speed, you should see something else.

    About

    Ealasaid is a technical writer, freelance movie reviewer, bookbinder, and geek-of-many-trades based in Portland, OR.