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I saw the film at FrightFest in London a couple of days ago, and was
pretty well sure I'd be seeing something special - but I ended up
seeing a film that is downright extraordinary. Brutal but beautiful,
magical yet earthy, it has a remarkable cast, with standout
performances all round.
A special mention must go to Sergi Lopez, whose 'Captain Vidal' is indeed one of the most sadistic film creations ever seen. Yet he manages to make the audience understand why he is the way he is ... an astounding performance. Maribel Verdu's quiet but rebellious housekeeper is one of the strongest female roles I've seen in many a year, and she is supported by a wealth of talent. Young Ivana Baquero is surprisingly self-assured as 12-year-old Ofelia, and I especially liked her almost Alice-like approach to the magical creatures she encounters in the labyrinth. The icing on this warped fairy tale is Doug Jones, who gives a towering performance - and in this case literally, as well as figuratively - as the guardian of the labyrinth, a faun, full of grace and charm and latent menace. Although dubbed, his Spanish is perfect (Jones speaks not a word of the language), and his physical presence is incredibly powerful as his character teases, cajoles and harries Ofelia to fulfil her tasks. He also plays the devastatingly creepy and disgusting 'Pale Man' - a creature that almost equals Vidal in his terrorising habits.
But the cast is just one facet of this gloriously photographed film, with Javier Navarrete's hauntingly simple score weaving itself into the fabric of a film perfectly edited and written. The brutality of post-Civil War Spain contrasts with the world of magic to which Ofelia is drawn, yet everywhere she goes she has choices to make. In fact the film is about choices, good and bad, and one discovers that no matter how desperate a situation becomes, a choice is always available - although that choice may mean one's death. The film is violent - very violent, but each moment of brutality, although graphic, has a purpose - nowhere is it gratuitous.
I loved it - as I knew I would - and if the Oscar voters don't give this film at least a nod for Best Foreign Language Film next year, then I will know that they have lost any sense of reason or comprehension. Because this film is truly a masterpiece, and Del Toro's greatest work to date.
Set during Franco's mopping up exercise after the Spanish Civil War,
Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is a wonderful, dark fairy tale
that, in a metaphor for Spain itself, teeters on the edge of nightmare
dreamscapes of corruption, violence and the death of innocents.
This film is definitely not for young children. Although the fantasy sequences are gorgeously realised, and are fairy tales in the truest sense (in that they are dark, fey, dangerous and violent), most of the story (about three quarters of it, in fact) exists outside of the dreamland, in the even more frightening (and sometimes shockingly violent) world of a real life struggle of ideas and ideology.
Sergi Lopez is excellent as the brutal (and possibly sadistic) Falangist Captain tasked with routing out the remaining leftists from the woods and hills of Northern Spain. Into this precarious situation come his new wife (a widow of a former marriage, who is carrying his son) and his stepdaughter Ofelia (played to absolute perfection, by the then 11 year old, Ivana Baquero).
Uncomfortable with her new surroundings, suspicious of her stepfather and desperately concerned about the worsening condition of her mother, Ofelia uncovers a strange alternative world, and the chance to escape forever the pain and uncertainty of her everyday life.
Thus the film alternates between the world of Civil War Spain and the increasingly bizarre, dark and frightening world of the Pan's Labyrinth. As the twin plots progress, they intertwine, with the tasks of Ofelia becoming the choices faced by a Spain at the crossroads. The poignancy of the film lies partly in the fact that the victories of the child are reflected so starkly by the failures of the adult world.
Apparently Pan's Labyrinth won a 20-minute standing ovation at Cannes, when it was shown. This may be a little bit over the top. I suspect when the furore has died down some will choose to swing the pendulum back and criticise it for its more obvious faults. Much of the film is derivative. There are few ideas in the film's magical dreamworld that haven't been seen before. There are also few ideas in the film's depiction of the Civil War that can't be read in Satre or Orwell; can't be viewed in Picasso's Guernica; or can't be watched in Land and Freedom.
For all the evident truth of these observations, to accept them would be to entirely miss the majesty of Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't lie in its originality but its absolute mastery of execution. People will watch Pan's Labyrinth in a way that most won't watch Land and Freedom. In doing so, they will also discover a world of fairy tales which existed before Disney sunk its claws into them: a dangerous world, where nothing is as it seems and every step is a possible death a place which may leave even adults shivering under the duvet, part in terror, part in wonder. And all this backed up by the finest cinematography I've seen.
The only real faults I am prepared to allow for this film is a slight tendency (particularly at the end) for a Narnia-like moralism, and the fact that the faun is, perhaps, is not quite wild enough! These are eminently forgivable, though. This is easily the best film I've seen this year, and a must see on the big screen.
Everyone's been raving about this. My opinion doesn't differ too much.
It did however suffer slightly from the overwhelmingly high
expectations I'd developed based on how brilliant everyone said it was,
and the whole "20min ovation at Cannes" thing. Really, who stands for
that long? That said, it's an amazing work.
Skipping the plot recap (find the briefest synopsis you can if you need to be filled in), I'll go straight to the tech specs. I'm not a huge Del Toro fan, Cronos was interesting but lacked something for me. Mimic was dross. Hellboy was enjoyable and Ron Perlman is always great on screen. But here, the director really outdoes himself. By far. He has wrapped together some amazing elements and somehow maintains a balance, that doesn't tip into the mundane or the ridiculous for a moment. And this is no mean feat. The story is part historical drama, part fantasy, part family melodrama. When it dips out of the fantasy, it still enchants.
Sergi Lopez and Maribel Verdú really drive the story in the historical drama scenes. I haven't seen Lopez in anything other than a film called Lisbon, in which he played a character so completely opposite from the Captain. He is a fierce and terrifying guy but actually comes across as sympathetic in a couple of scenes. Verdu is incredible as Mercedes, the head housekeeper (or something) who is Ofelia's closest friend in the house. The scenes with these characters and the civil war subplot never fail to hold your attention. Ivana Baquero is excellent as the main character Ofelia, her performance is very mature and believable and she shares some beautiful scenes with her mother and Mercedes.
When the fairy tale elements return, it's astounding how naturally they fit into the story. I think that is the real magic of this film. The war drama and the fairy tale stem so naturally from each other.
One thing that most reviews haven't mentioned is the violence. I think it's been firmly established that this is an adult's fairytale, but at times it is a very intense and brutal film. There are a couple of scenes in particular which are very disturbing and difficult to watch. These do not distract from the tone and theme of the film however so they don't seem exploitative at all. If you are squeamish, it may get a bit much for you.
A final and obvious point I spose I can't get away without making: the set design, costumes and effects are superb. That's all.
I was perhaps expecting a little more fantasy, but the unique blend of genres is absolutely compelling. There wasn't a false note anywhere or a plot hole, which are too often present in fantasy films. I can't recall a good, original fantasy film from recent years. Fortunately this blows MirrorMask out of the water. It doesn't share any of the contrivances, vagueness or ineffectual characters with that film.
I just wish I'd seen it without already having read so much. I've tried very hard to not reveal any plot details at all as it does go to some surprising and unexpected places. Fortunately most of the reviews have done the same. I'd urge anyone with the chance to see it to do so immediately, and try not to read too much more.
I was fortunate enough to catch Pan's Labyrinth last night as part of the 'Fright Fest' programme in London and was completely blown away. Guillermo Del Toro himself was present to both introduce the movie and to answer questions afterwards. He spoke very passionately about the film, and it was easy to see why. Guillermo Del Toro has created something very special - part war movie, part fantasy, that everyone should see. The film features a fantastic performance by Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal and as central character Ofelia, newcomer Ivana Baquero delivers the performance of a seasoned veteran. If you are the type of person who is put off by subtitled movies, don't be. This is a very 'visual' film that does not rely overly on dialogue. This does not open until 24 November in the UK and 29 December in the USA but already I am looking forward to seeing it again (and buying the Special Edition DVD).This is the first time I've felt the need to write a review on here. Do yourselves a favour and go and watch it on the big screen.
This is a movie with a simple and straightforward plot which contains
layers and layers of intelligent writing, metaphors and message.
To speak further about the script will end up in spoilers and that would be pointless since my very purpose writing this review is to encourage people to see it.
This is no small feat, interpreting fantasy as something of a product of a real world, cross-referencing how the child acts to her real surroundings and the "other world", metaphors that describe the accelerated state of growing up some of us are put through... Incredible. Simple, straightforward yet there is so much to be appreciated.
Those who are saying how it's predictable and thus not enjoyable, I ask of you, which movie nowadays aren't predictable? Hell, even 21 grams was predictable but so damned good. It's not about how it ends, you can always predict how a movie would end if you've ever taken a half-decent script writing class or have some common sense. It's always about how well you tell a story.
I'm grateful there are still directors who aren't tied down to this new epidemic of including a plot twist simply because they need a plot twist.
Pan's Labyrinth features some of the best storytelling and attention to detail without being affected by the now ever-popular opinion of cameras having to be put through several technical difficulties to make the shots eligible to be called a brilliant shot.
I am also grateful for them not dubbing it. Watching it in its' original language is much, much more rewarding even if I had to rely on the subtitles for most of the time.
This is a brilliant movie. Watch it.
I saw this at this years FrightFest Film Festival in London and
absolutely loved it.
Guillermo was there to introduce it and you can tell it really is a film he loves and is passionate about.
He referred to it as a sister movie to The Devils Backbone.
Anyway . . . so the film starts and I must admit I was expecting a lot more of a fantasy film however it is more of a 70/30 split between historical era movie/fantasy fairytale.
Don't let this put you off though, the film really is stunning and brilliantly acted. The little girl carries pretty much the whole film on her shoulders and does so with the skill of Atlas himself!
The violence is graphic and the monsters are scary but it is probably one of the most gorgeous and personal films from a director for a long time!
Give it a go if you can get to a screening, DON'T WAIT FOR DVD, it really does need to be seen on a big screen!
I saw the movie yesterday in the Spanish premiere and I confirm: it's one of the best Guillermo del Toro's films (if not the best ever). Innocence and brutality, fantasy and reality, together in a wonderful fairy tale about the power of magic in dark times. The performances are great, mainly from Sergi López, Maribel Verdú and the big revelation of the film: the 12 years girl Ivana Baquero. Del Toro repeats the context of the film "El Espinazo del Diablo" ("The Devil's Backbone"), the Spanish Post-Civil War, with the same philosophy: the supernatural invading the daily life in a depressive environment and the innocence of children trapped between both world. But "El Laberinto del Fauno" is most compact, most mature and best done in very aspects, and perhaps it's the most personal movie from Del Toro.
It is Guillermo del Toro's best film ( 22 minutes ovation at Cannes). Del Toro gets a brilliant film but also superb performances from all involved, particularly from Sergi Lopez as a brutal Fascist army captain Vidal and Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from del Toro's Hellboy) as the Pan and the wonderfully disturbing Pale Man. But the real find is Ivana Baquero (12 years old) as the young heroine Ofelia. She gives one of the best performances from a child actor we have seen since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Come to it unprepared and with your mind wide open and you will be rewarded with one of the best films of the year."
I saw this film toward the end of the Cannes Film Festival; it edged
out all the others I'd seen, 30 of them, because of its wonderful
story; history, politics and fantasy woven into a fabric spun by a
superlative creative team headed by Guillermo del Toro. In comparison
to this, his latest effort, del Toro's other films only hinted at the
depth and breadth of his talent. In this film, much as I pride myself
on foreseeing the outcome of most stories, I could not guess what would
happen next. The film is quite long, yet suspense is sustained
throughout. The music is some of the best I've heard in years, so well
suited to the action that you almost don't notice its specific effect
because of how well it is intertwined with the visual, emotional and
In my opinion, del Toro's "...Labyrinth" deserved to win at Cannes over the Ken Loach film, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley". Actually, everyone I knew at the Festival who had seen both agreed with me. And the 22 minute ovation speaks clearly for the effect on the audience. It's hard to imagine that any film could beat it in a context other than Cannes where they have marked preferences, bordering on obsession, for certain directors.
Let's hope that the late December opening favors an Oscar nomination which it should win hands down, unless some other work of genius appears on the horizon. That doesn't seem likely because at Cannes the somewhat disappointing array of films was attributed to the fact that not much great product is being released this year. I might add that I had already seen Volver prior to Pan's Labyrinth, and I maintain that Pan is the better film. For me, it displaced all three of my top films of the year. I do love The Departed but, luckily, that's in another category which does not threaten Pan's access to Oscar. If I had to choose the very best picture of the year, without limitation by category, it would most assuredly go to Pan's Labyrinth for it demonstrates del Toro's originality and brilliance as both writer and director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1944. Franco's authoritarian fascist regime is a horrid world for a
child, barely into her teens. Ofelia retreats into herself, finding in
her fantasy world the lessons of courage, self-discipline and integrity
she will need. With her, we travel beyond outward appearances, through
a labyrinth of fears and uncertainties, from which Spain will not
escape for several decades.
A dark, brutal fairytale, chillingly set in the real world but full of hope and warmth, Pan's Labyrinth accomplishes a masterpiece.
Our film opens with a momentary shot of Ofelia, blood from a nosebleed disappearing as the frames are introduced in reverse. A voice-over takes us back to the time of the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia arrives (with her pregnant mother) at a nationalist military base in the woods and is introduced to her stepfather, a vicious commanding officer. Capitán Vidal dispenses arbitrary justice to anyone he suspects is against him. Two suspected rebels caught by his men are summarily executed. Only afterwards is a rabbit discovered in their bag, proving their claim that they are just woodsmen (and maybe also a throwaway reference to Alice in Wonderland).
Ofelia is unwilling to accept this harsh adult world. She retreats into a labyrinth where she meets a strange Pan-like creatures, Fauno, who gives her a set of tasks where she has to face some of her darkest fears, winning a key for her next task.
The story becomes more intense, both outside the labyrinth (where Vidal is busy torturing people) and inside, where Ofelia has to face the Pale Man - a creature that has plucked out its eyes and can only see by placing them in the stigmata on its hands. Around the walls of the room are pictures of people being cast into hell by the Pale Man (From inference or the director's comments, it is apparent that the Pale Man represents authoritarianism, whether that of the Fascists or the Church). In Pan's Labyrinth we have a parable about the journey of Spanish society from the 1940s to post-Franco, a magical fairytale of stunning beauty, a story of the struggle and character development of a child on the edge of puberty, and a tense story of battles between Nationalists and Republicans. That they are all welded together seamlessly and precisely in a multi-level narrative is a remarkable achievement and thrilling experience. The sheer artistry recalls Cocteau's La Belle at la Bête. Del Toro sweeps us into a dreamlike, poetic vision, with a minimum of CGI and a grasp of dialogue that seems almost transcendental.
In a brave decision, an actor (Ivana Baquero) who is only as old as her character has been used to play the young Ofelia. But as the ethereal figure between two worlds, she is also there to cast the earthy characters involved in material battles into more visceral contrast. Editing is crisp throughout, without a single frame wasted. Rich colours and unflinching camera-work keep us rooted in the experience, whether it is Ofelia crawling face-down in the mud and covered with insects, or a hapless victim having his nose smashed in by the Capitán. Yet scenes of tenderness and beauty are equally as moving - Ofelia retreating into her mother's arms, a nursemaid powerless to help her republican lover, or a doctor performing an act of mercy.
The movies, like our dreams, folklore and imagination, are rich with symbols and images that can strike a chord in our deepest being. Artists, as well as creators of myths and religion, have long employed such symbols to guide and inspire, knowing that the conscious mind may accept a sign more easily than rational argument alone.
In watching a movie, we combine ideas of the real, the imaginary and the symbolic to find an inner affinity. And, if the filmmaker has done his job properly, will feel truly moved.
One of the things that can make or break a movie that makes extensive use of symbols is whether those symbols echo in the collective unconscious, often through time honoured association, or not. Knowledge of mythology or Jungian psychology can make all the difference. Much has been made of the title. Originally 'El Laberinto del Fauno', the translation at first appears sloppy, but Del Toro has done his research well. While quipping that it 'just sounded better', a little investigation of classical authorities shows Faunus as a form of the ancient god Pan (Lempriere). Pan, the goat-like god that represents a totality of possibilities, together with goat-like stubbornness and independence of thought, is the perfect symbol. In the film he says, "I've had so many names... I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. . . . I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness." In Greek Mythology, Pan also won the affections of a princess under the form of a goat. The freedom of thought (and sexuality) he advocated, with the rise of Christianity, caused him to be portrayed as the Devil; but we learn his intentions are good, whereas the holy-looking Pale Man offers temptation only as an excuse to rip his victims apart. As an aspect of the creative power, fauns in mythology also symbolise firm aspiration and human intelligence.
The one symbol that Del Torro is less adept in using is that of dying. He tends to use the valid, if flawed connotation of redemption-through-death promoted by the religions he disavows, but it is a small point that in no way spoils the story.
Pan's Labyrinth leads us through parallel stories and themes without once losing its internal consistency. Some audiences may be put off by the idea of using flights of fancy in such a blatant way or, sadly, by the fact that it is subtitled. Such minor monsters should not get in the way of enjoying the film on a simple entertainment level. Cinephiles, on the other hand, will not want to miss such a rare treat of talent.
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