Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

****

Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Fauntastic. Cinematic magic has a habit of reducing even the most impassive critics to either bad puns or speechlessness. Easily Guillermo del Toro's best film since The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth envelops the audience in a similar realm of innocence and wonder that Japanese animation maestro Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo) has perfected.

Del Toro's film is a welcomingly strange mix of simplistic, questing fairytale and dark, Spanish Civil War-era drama as a little girl discovers fantastical things going on in the woods and ruins surrounding the home she now shares with her pregnant mother, and new father, a Captain in the fascist Franco army.

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"I have a sort of a fetish for insects, clockwork, monsters, dark places, and unborn things."

It's an interesting quote by Del Toro, and these fascinations certainly bled into the making of Pan's Labyrinth. From the moment we meet our little protagonist, Sofia, brilliantly played by the precociously talented Ivana Baquero, these fetishistic qualities are at work on the path she walks, in the wind that blows through the trees and the first puzzle block she carefully places, starting her and us on this film's dark road. The writer/director perfectly balances mirrored storylines that, almost like Alice and her looking glass, seem to co-exist and yet may possibly not be real at all. Is the girl conjuring up the enigmatic faun that lurks in the labyrinth behind her new home? Are these quests she's sent on an attempt to escape from the horrors she finds in the real world; preferring to face the new ones from her picture books?

You could say that as Sofia's fantasy progresses, the reality we see around her flexes in response. The villainous evil of her stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), the kindness and courage of Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), the housekeeper and her beloved, yet doomed mother (Ariadna Gil); each mimicking fairytale archetypes. And just as Sofia wants to rebel against the oppression of young adulthood - the magic she realises is lost in her own mother - Mercedes and the rebels in the forest wish to rebel against the oppression of fascism. In fact, though Pan and his followers seem bestial, this is simply the wood-limbed primacy of nature, the fecundity and grotesqueness of childbirth. This is not the bestiality seen in Captain Vidal, a man swallowed up by a malignant ideology. It's a fine performance by Lopez; gripping in his intensity and a perfect balance to the wide-eyed innocence of Baquero.

With the help of production designer Eugenio Caballero and superb cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, del Toro uses puppets, prosthetics and CGI to conjure up a living, breathing world of dark, eldritch magic where Sofia encounters the familiar bilious yellows of the Giant Toad and the spasming evil of the child-eating 'Pale Man'. It is only in this world that she can finally exert some control and conjure up a little bit of hope for us all.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2010
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In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, a lonely girl encounters a mysterious faun.
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Read more Pan's Labyrinth reviews:

Chris *****
Jennie Kermode ****
Moominkat ****

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massagué, Gonzalo Uriarte

Year: 2006

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Mexico, Spain, US

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