Pan's Labyrinth
directed by Guillermo del Toro
(New Line, 2007)

For me, this film sort of came out of nowhere. It's not often a Spanish film (with subtitles, at that) becomes all the rage in America, but I just kept seeing references to this thing all over the place. Having watched it, I can see why -- it really is a wondrous, compelling, emotional cinematic experience.

Many have dubbed Pan's Labyrinth a fairy tale for adults, and I think that designation is pretty apt. A lot of people aren't aware that many fairy tales were, in their infancy, pretty dark little stories. As often as not, fairy-tale characters did not live happily ever after at all -- in some cases, they didn't even live through the stories. This particular film features pain and anguish alongside some fairly jarring and brutal moments. Certainly, it's not a film for the vast majority of children out there, but I see no reason in the world for it receiving an R rather than a PG-13 rating.

The central character of the story is a 12-year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), an imaginative child accompanying her very pregnant mother to the military post run by her stepfather. The year is 1944, and Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez) is there to take out the remaining anti-Franco rebels hiding out in the woodlands. He is an exceedingly cruel and ruthless man, as the audience learns early on. With her mother bedridden, Ofelia wanders outside to follow a fairy through the ancient stone structure called Pan's Labyrinth, eventually entering a circular underground structure. It is there she meets an otherworldly faun (Doug Jones) and learns she is actually a fairy princess who lost all of her old memories when she ran off to the world of humans years ago.

Before she can return to her fairy kingdom, however, she must complete three tasks to prove she is the rightful princess. The tasks are not easy -- but, on the other hand, Ofelia's human life is not easy either. Her stepfather cares only about the impending birth of his child (which he assumes will be a son), her mother (Ariadna Gil) is basically unavailable because her pregnancy has turned into a dangerous one, and she has no one else apart from a servant named Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) who cares one iota about her. It is not hard to see why she becomes increasingly enchanted with the idea of exchanging the miseries of human life for the joys of the fairy realm.

Running alongside Ofelia's story is that of the anti-government rebels trying to survive out in the woods, despite Capitan Vidal's attempts to horde all available sources of food and medicine. What Vidal does not know is that rebel sympathizers are hidden amongst his own personal staff -- two individuals who will emerge as the two unquestioned heroes of this story. Both of these worlds eventually smash together by the end of the film, setting the stage for a bittersweet ending that leaves much to the viewer's imagination.

There's an amazing pathos to this film that might take you unawares, particularly if you are used to a steady diet of Hollywood throw-away scripts. Pan's Labyrinth galvanizes your emotions and compels you to look beneath the surface of the mundane. It may even rekindle that sense of wonder that you seemingly lost all those years ago. It is truly a most glorious film.

review by
Daniel Jolley

16 February 2008

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