Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 02/09/07 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I’d been wanting to see this movie for ages, even before it actually came out, but for some reason it took me a long, long time to finally get around to it.  So, I left work a bit early on Friday and hit a showing in the late afternoon.  The film surprised me, mainly because it was as good as I had hoped it would be.  I am used to let-down on films that I am excited about seeing.  But, I have to say, Pan’s Labyrinth is excellent.

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro has certainly hit his high mark.  He’s had an interesting career so far.  The first of his films I thought was okay, a strange vampire film, Cronos (1993) and then a couple of weird, semi-interesting Hollywood films, Mimic (1997) and Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004), but somewhere in between made a semi-obscure gem, also set in Franco-era Spain, The Devil’s Backbone (2001) which was quite excellent itself.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a real further departure, far deeper in fantasy, but tied into a historical critique of the fascism of Franco’s Spain, embodied by the cruel, heartless Capitán Vidal.  The world of the film is beautifully rendered, rich in character and detail.  I had actually thought before I’d seen it that the art design, being as cool-looking as it was, potentially could overpower the story.  Quite frankly, as entertaining as his Hollywood work is, it’s also not great stuff inherently.  The strength of the narrative in this film is a big part of why it’s so strong.

Ivana Baquero is pretty wonderful as Ofelia, the tragically oppressed daughter of an ailing pregnant mother who has married herself to the cruel Vidal after Ofelia’s father, a tailor, has died.  They are taken to a remote mountain area of Spain where Vidal is leading an attack on the rebels in the area.  She discovers an ancient underground world to which she belongs, a long-lost princess, reincarnated to return to her world and achieve immortality.  She discovers an ancient faun who instructs her on three tasks that she must achieve to enable her to return to her world.

Del Toro parallels aspects of the fantasy world in tune with things that happen in “reality”, images of keys, knives, and ultimately the baby echo each other through the steps of her journey.  As the story unfolds, the connections deepen and mesh.  It’s a nice conceit, and del Toro plays out the balance between the fantasy and reality in a clever and seamless fashion.

This is an excellent film.  Really good.

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