Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo, Roger Casamajor, César Vea
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
I usually start my reviews with some informal discussion of why I decided to watch a particular movie, or what particular associations or preconceptions I may have for the movie. Or sometimes I just introduce a theme that I try to work through the review. I generally do this by means of introduction, and a way to delay revealing my opinion of the movie until farther along into the review, thinking that people will pay more attention to the rest of the post if they don’t immediately get a sense of what I think about the movie.
Well, I can’t think of any other way to review Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth than to get into it right away (well, you know, besides the delaying introduction I just wrote): it is a phenomenal movie, an imaginative, risk-taking adventure that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The movie grabs your attention right away with its distinctive visual style and fairytale-inspired ideas, and holds you in a madman’s dream until the final reel.
Set in Franco’s Spain during World War II, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the tale of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who moves to the countryside with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to live with her new step-father Capitán Vidal (Sergi López), a brutally authoritative officer trying snuff out a rebel militia nearby. Once there, Ofelia discovers a magical labyrinth, encountering Pan (Doug Jones), a faun who reveals to her that she is the reincarnated Princess Moanna, setting her on a mission to prove that her essence is intact so she can leave her terrible life behind and ascend to a higher plane.
The movie does an excellent job in blending the fantastic with the horrors of war, with both sides of the equation as interesting as the other. Ofelia’s adventures are terrifyingly beautiful, a contradiction that works due to the skillful direction and writing of del Toro, the moody cinematography of Guillermo Navarro, and the mystical set and make-up that make up the Fawn and the Pale Man (also Doug Jones), both of whom should be fixtures in your nightmares for the following weeks after you see the movie. The magical world Ofelia discovers is truly spectacular, but the dark world of Vidal are equally haunting, brutally violent at times, and definitely not for the squeamish.
It’s an unusual way to set a fairytale, or an unusual way to portray fascist Spain depending on your perspective, which is yet another reason why this movie is so special. It is a completely unique concept, an ambitious tale the likes of which you rarely ever see coming out of Hollywood, which has become more and more adverse to the daring and original. Which is about as good an argument as I can think of to watch more foreign films.
Not everything in the movie works. It deals so heavily in the surreal that it’s hard to emotionally connect as a viewer and the story of the fascists versus the rebels lacks nuance. But any flaws the movie might have are a result of the movie’s ambition, which makes it all the more admirable.
If you’re longing for something original in the world of movies, I can’t recommend Pan’s Labyrinth enough. It will awaken you to the endless possibilities of the medium. Even if by some chance you don’t love it, you should admire it, which guarantees that watching it is time well spent.