Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones

What's in a fairytale? A sense of mysticism, a certain wonder, a desire to create worlds that are beyond our grasp, and beyond the dregs of the depressing reality we live in. In those respects, a film like Pan's Labyrinth is definitely a fairytale. But it's also more than that, as it shows you the other side of the coin, too. It is a film of dual personalities, and both worlds - that of the Spanish revolution in the 1940s and that of the strange, whimsical fantasy world that lies just behind every wall.

The movie, about a young girl who is traveling with her mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless, sadistic army officer, is historically driven, set in fasict Spain after the revolution, where rebels still fight in the mountains to try and regain their freedom. But this is really quite downplayed, not shoved in your face or made so you absolutely have to know the history in order to get into the film. The girl, Ofelia, is an imaginative child, always wandering off and letting her imagination carry her places - much to her mother's chagrin.

But soon enough her mother is bedridden and getting ready to have the general's baby, leaving Ofelia to do as she wishes. Ofelia is quickly sucked into a chasm of surrealist fantasy, where she is told by the keeper of the realm, the Faun, that she is the reincarnation of the king's daughter, and that she needs to perform three tasks to prove that she is worthy of the title. She has to throw small rocks into the mouth of a giant tree-frog in order to obtain a key. She is given chalk to draw her way into the hall of a terrible beast, in which she cannot let her temptation to eat the lovely foods on his table overcome her.

See what I mean? This is the purest essence of fairytales. I love how things like this are fit in between the darker, more mature adult themes of the movie. The careful juxtaposition makes a good statement about real life - the world is harsh and violent, but through the eyes of a child, the best way to cope is by creating realms of fantasy inside their own minds. And in the case of Pan's Labyrinth, the fantasy world seems just as real as the real one.

Guillermo Del Toro is really an ace director, making every scene count and hitting the viewers hard with both his historical doom and gloom and the dark, tempting fantasy scenes. This is a very visual movie, with a lot of subtle special effects that surprise the viewer with their intricacy and detail. Everything looks fantastic, and the acting is great, with Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal and Doug Jones as the Faun being exceptionally kick ass in their roles.

There are a lot of smaller plot lines going on all the while, like the one involving Mercedes, the servant, and her connection to the rebellion. Several people are killed, and all the while Ofelia's fantasy world runs its lines deep, like contours through mud. It all makes for a very complex, winding trip, and I think this will really be one of those films where you notice new things every time you watch.

As the ending grows near, with the final confrontation between the Faun, Ofelia and Vidal in the labyrinth boiling down to its last notes, everything seems to become clearer. The message of the film, all the dark, twisted subtleties...it all just kind of clicks into place, like the last pieces of a puzzle. The conclusion is uplifting, lending credence to the film's dreamlike, fairytale-esque demeanor. It is magical. Don't believe in fairytales? This movie will make you reconsider.