“Pan’s Labyrinth”: Mucho gusto

Thu, 01/25/2007 - 5:00pm
By: Michael Boylan

Once upon a time there was a girl named Ofelia. Ofelia loved fairy tales, even though her mother, pregnant with another child, and her stepfather, an evil man named Captain Vidal, wished she would grow up and leave those stories behind. Living in a home by an abandoned mill in Spain in the 1940s, Ofelia became more and more immersed in her fairy tales, while her mother grew more ill as her pregnancy advanced and Captain Vidal and his men drew closer to eliminating resistance fighters in the woods.

That is how director and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro begins his finest film to date. The story is an expertly blended fantasy with Ofelia often entering the magical realm after another tragedy strikes in the real world. Ivana Baquero gives an incredibly nuanced performance as Ofelia. The viewer witnesses a girl who is struggling against an entrance into what she understandably sees as a cruel and merciless world. Ofelia desires to be in a world that at least offers the hope of the fantastic or magical to aid her against the cruelties there.

Note the use of the word “cruelty.” “Pan’s Labyrinth” is not for younger viewers. It is rated R, mainly due to some graphically violent war scenes, and even a grizzled horror movie buff like me had to cringe and cover my eyes during some scenes. Those scenes should not keep away people who enjoy good cinema though, as this film is great. Del Toro is a visionary who has finally been able to let loose and make a beautiful and captivating movie from start to finish. The story is superb, the acting outstanding and the visual effects are as engaging as a dream. Though it is a Spanish film with English subtitles, the film will hook you quickly enough so that you’ll forget you are reading throughout.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” will also leave you with a lot to think about and consider. I wondered what was supposed to be real and what wasn’t and what certain magical tasks that Ofelia was compelled to complete by the faun, Pan, represented, if anything at all. Though an outfit certainly was a shout-out to “Alice in Wonderland,” much of “Pan’s Labyrinth” felt refreshingly original and yet comfortably familiar. It is like a story that has been told for generations, much like the ones that Ofelia would often tell her unborn brother while he was in her mother’s womb, they have similar elements but a quality that seems to make them more enchanting than anything you have heard before.

Del Toro combines the fantastic elements of Ofelia’s journey with the story of fighting between the Fascists and the rebels in World War II era Spain. Several of the staff members at the cabin are secretly providing assistance to the rebels and Ofelia bonds with one of them, Mercedes, right off the bat. Mercedes is often completing tasks to aid the rebels, which include her brother, while Ofelia is completing her tasks to gain the approval of Pan and prove herself worthy of immortality. Mercedes, though sympathetic to Ofelia and her plight, admits that she no longer believes in fairies and has had to move on to more grown up things. There are a lot of interesting parallels between Ofelia and Mercedes and I believe many more would be evident upon repeated viewings.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Film, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a movie well worth the trip to the closest theater playing it. If you allow yourself to sit back and let the story unfold and grab you, del Toro and his opus will knock your socks off.


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