Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is like no film I have ever seen. It is being marketed as a fantasy picture, say like ‘The Dark Crystal’ or ‘Legend’, and though it certainly has some fantastical elements to it, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is actually a war picture, and a romantic one at that with a decidedly unbiased tone against the Franco fascist regime after World War II.
Ivana Boquero is young Ofelia, a girl of 12 driving out to the country side with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadana Gil) to meet her brutal step father, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Along the way, she frees a fairy that follows her to the camp grounds where Captain Vidal’s troops are engaged in a bloody battle with what we will assume are the Maqui rebels who are holed up in the mountain regions. Connected to the war compound is complex labyrinth of walls and caves where Ofelia meets a fawn who informs Ofelia that she is actually a princess from a mystical magical place, and before the moon rises, she has three tasks to perform or else she will remain human and not be allowed to travel to back to her sovereign land.
Also at the compound are Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), Captain Vidal’s chief servant and inside informant for the rebels, and Dr. Ferriro, (Alex Angulo) who, though not particularly a rebel sympathizer, is assisting Mercedes because he has deep but repressed feelings for her.
Taken separately, a story of the Maqui rebels under the oppression of Franco’s soldiers, or the story a child’s inability to cope with her reality and subsequently
creating a world unto its own where something good waits for her, either would have been effective. Del Toro’s challenge, and his risk was in finding a way to seamlessly combine the two and he does so magnificently. Recognize that this is one violent film. It’s a war movie, maybe not in vein of stark realism as provided by ‘Saving Private Ryan’, but still, the brutality and the nonchalance of said brutality is shocking. When Captain Vidal mercilessly beats a suspected rebel repeatedly with the butt of a bottle, with chunks of his face flying off and imploding with each blow, it’s darn near impossible to watch, but it happens too fast to turn away. But this, and other scenes similar to this, highlight the horrible world that Ofelia is attempting to escape from.
Another thing that works well in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is that if you take it simply as it is given to you, a story about a daydreaming girl in bad time, the movie works just fine. But it’s what’s going on underneath that makes this landmark cinema. There are numerous religious and political undertones that Del Toro is grappling with as well as the clever use of color and composition. As we have mentioned, he obviously has a romantic view of the rebels and what they stand for, but considering that Franco ruled Spain for close to 40 years, rebel victories will have to be remembered romantically, as history tells a different story.
Great performances for all involved, of course for young Ivana Boquero as the wildly imaginative Ofelia, but also to Sergi Lopez who’s a bigger dick (sorry, can’t think of word that better describes his character) in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ than he was even in Steven Frears ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, and he was pretty big dick in that movie. Sergi kinda has me wondering what kind of dude he is in real life, if he continues the path of playing these colossal assholes so very well.
Like many foreign films, the story is a sad one, and I’m certain it’s not the goal of the filmmaker to make you feel good, he just has a story tell, and a creative, inventive way to spin his yarn. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth has an ‘R’- rating for good reason. A child may be the central character, and it may have cute little CGI characters floating around, but DO NOT think that this is a movie for children. Unless of course you want your children enduring scenes of abject violence, torture, sadness, death and terror and sleeping with you for the next four months.
That being said, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is a movie that defies categorization, and in a market where categories are almost demanded, that’s not a bad thing at all. This is landmark movie making and it comes highly recommended.