Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Pan’s Labyrinth is easily the most disturbing fairy tale I’ve ever seen. Visually it’s glorious, poetic and damp–you can almost smell the world as it flickers by.
The film begins with a familiar setup that you’ve seen before in films like The Princess Bride, The Never Ending Story and Labyrinth… with a child reading a story. In this case that child is Ofelia, a young girl bumping along a small Spanish dirt road in the back of an official town car at the end of WWII. Her mother Carmen, quite pregnant, assures the young girl that she will like their new home and she must be very polite to her new father. The soldiers that accompany the mother and daughter add a heavy weight to that statement. But like in all fairy tales young Ofelia slips off on her own and immediately discovers an unusual statue and a peculiar key. And thus begins the magic.
Guillermo del Toro is a very frustrating director for me personally. With Cronos the dude had me stitched up in a sleeping bag, over his shoulder happily prepared to be thrown in whatever lake he so chose. But somehow along the way to that lake he made Mimic. I was kicking so furiously in the bag that I missed The Devil’s Backbone but soon after caught a whiff of Blade 2 and so I quietly slipped out of that sleeping bag and trotted off to other adventures. As for Hellboy… well, my geek palate must not be that developed because I tasted cardboard the whole time.
But while watching Pan’s Labyrinth I can safely say that for the first time in many, many years I felt the magic of cinema again, and most certainly the power of Mr. del Toro’s ability as a filmmaker. One of the keys to the film’s success is that it sets up a number of very familiar elements that you’ve likely seen before, but skews them in a new way; sort of like ordering a steak at a restaurant that comes with a nice side of potatoes and some vegetables… it smells and looks wonderful and you can’t wait to dig in. But what makes this film different is that suddenly you notice the piece of meat on your plate is not beef at all, but something far more disgusting and unusual. Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale with a very important theme, one that someone far smarter and more educated in history than I will do a much better job of talking about. In short, this is a movie about the dangers of Fascism, and to give that danger a real threat we are treated to some incredibly brutal moments.
Ofelia’s new father, Captain Vidal, is a shining example of the terrifying Fascist government that has come to power. His mission in this damp rural region is to mop up the last of the guerrilla fighters who don’t yet realize their cause is lost. Without going into details I’ll offer this: name one character you’ve seen in one movie who shaves with a straight razor that doesn’t eventually do something violent. What I’m saying here is that a movie that has been playing as Labyrinth suddenly starts to feel very much like Salo: 120 Days of Sodom.
Ofelia’s adventure into fantasy land (which involves a lot of the imagery you’ve seen in the posters, clips and stills on-line) becomes more and more entwined with the real world happening in the hills around her and eventually leads to a confrontation as preordained and yet still unexpected as in the very best fairy tales.
I haven’t gone into too much of the plot and subplots here because to do so would be tres-tarded (as the French might say if they did something other than drink Champagne and listen to bad techno). Spoilers are for movies that have no magic and Pan’s Labyrinth is, quite simply, the most magical film I’ve seen in a long, long time. A fairy tale for grown-ups. A movie that doesn’t pull a single punch and leaves you believing in the power of movies again.
5 out of 5
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