Monday, January 22, 2007


Title:Pan's Labyrinth [El Laberinto del Fauno]
Cast: Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Director: Guillermo del Toro

The Spanish Civil War maybe over, but the fighting continues - resistance against the fascist, hiding in the mountains. Ofelia's father died during the war, and her mother remarried a ruthless commander. Which is why she finds herself moving out to the country with her heavily pregnant mother, with only her books full of fairy tales to keep her company. All around her are the signs of battle, the vicious commander who she refuses to accept as replacement to her father, and the kindly house keeper, who is clearly collaborating with the resistance.

But Ofelia wants an escape. So when she encounters a large bug, which transforms into a fairy, she is only too happy to follow it into the old stone labyrinth that lies by the commanders appropriated house. There is she encounters a faun, who eagerly tells her that she is in fact the daughter of the fairy king. The fawning faun suggests that if the young princess in human form, were to pass three tests then she could easily be returned to her true home. Ofelia is delighted, and eager to pass her tests, though temptations are difficult to resist and she has been warned that fauns can't always be trusted. She proceeds regardless, though the faun seems increasingly manipulative in his machinations.

In the background, her mother struggles with a difficult pregnancy, with the captain only caring about having a baby boy for his heir. The captain tortures and kills and the fighting escalates around them. So it is not surprising that Ofelia might be keen to retreat to a more peaceful world, even if perhaps the whole thing is her imagination.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has attained a certain mainstream credibility through his work on films like Blade II and Hellboy, but once again it is with Spanish language films that he excels. Returning to the territory he covered in his classic Devil's Backbone, that of a child against the background of the Spanish Civil War with an element of the "other" filtering through. Here he takes things to a considerably more extreme level, with both the level of the war violence and the fantasy special effects. Visually the film is wonderful, with the young actress Ivana Baquero as Ofelia coming out as a star. From the rest of the cast Sergi López (Dirty Pretty Things) as the captain and Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the local house keeper are the most familiar faces.

I've already seen Pan's Labyrinth twice in the cinema; it’s certainly one of the best films on offer at the moment, and well worth catching on the big screen.

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