Cert: 15 Runtime: 118 mins Director: Guillermo del Toro Cast: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil and Doug Jones
My mother told me to be wary of Fauns
This was the first ever del Toro movie I ever watched, since then I have been hooked. Pacific Rim is out this weekend, so one would think that making Pan’s Labyrinth my blast from the past this week makes sense.In 1944, in the post-Civil War in Spain, rebels still fight in the mountains against the fascist troops. The young and imaginative Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant and sick mother Carmen Vidal (Ariadna Gil) to the country to meet and live with her stepfather, the sadistic and cruel Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), in an old mill. During the night, Ofelia meets a fairy and together they go to a pit in the centre of a maze where they meet a faun that tells that she is a princess from a kingdom in the underground. He also tells that her father is waiting for her, but she needs to accomplish three gruesome, tough and dangerous assignments first. Meanwhile, she becomes friend of the servant Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who is the sister of one of the rebels and actually is giving support to the group. In a dark, harsh and violent world, Ofelia lives her magical world trying to survive her tasks and sees her father and king again.
Pan’s Labyrinth is one of those films that starts so well that you hope it will stay that good but which actually surprises you and constantly improves. It’s a remarkably layered work about the importance of choice even in an emotional and political dictatorship and about the fictions and fantasies that sustain people through the worst circumstances. On the surface this appears to be little more than a more fantastic spin on The Spirit of the Beehive, sharing its post-Spanish Civil War setting as well as the broken family setting, but this is a far superior film in every way. Although marketed largely as a fantasy, its real power lies in the scenes set in the real world where Sergi Lopez’s all too believable Fascist monster is mopping up the few remaining communist guerrillas in the hills while waiting for his sick wife to give birth to his son while her daughter from her first marriage tries to reassert her own identity rather than submit to the Captain’s idea of family.The challenges of the mythical world are far less disturbing – or violent – than the real one, and it’s all too easy to see why she wants to escape into the darkness of the labyrinth where at least the hope of something better exists. But then she’s not the only one escaping into the imagination, as her mother sustains herself with a romanticised view of her meeting the captain that he has no interest in whatsoever.
To him stories – even a part of his family history that has passed into local legend – exist only to be denied. Lopez’s greatest sin isn’t the pride that he admits to, or even that he is so pitiless, it’s that he chooses to obey without question: the girl’s small triumph is that she does not. And the triumphs in the film are generally small, quiet ones, where courage and fear go hand in hand, making the few acts of decency all the more important when they occur. There is one “saved by the cavalry” moment that at first doesn’t convince but does prove to be there for a definite purpose that makes the ending all the more powerful.But while there’s a lot going on underneath the surface of the film, it doesn’t crush it with the weight of its ideas. It’s directed with a visual assurance and, at times, playfulness that sweeps you along, sometimes with delight, sometimes with apprehension, but never simply for the sake of a nice shot or a neat special effect (most of which are incredibly well integrated for such a low budget feature). The performances are superb, with Lopez somehow managing to avoid turning his irredeemable character into a caricature: this is an evil without conscience that is all too recognisable. Javier Navarette’s beautiful score is also adept at walking the fine line between magic and emotion without crossing the line into schmaltz. It’s been years since I was so affected by I movie that I had to see the very next show. Practically perfect and definitely one to catch on the big screen or at home