Mixing personal movies for an in-crowd with movies for a bigger audience with a few personal touches (I'm thinking of Mimic, Blade II and Hellboy), Del Toro is quickly becoming a director one shouldn't avoid. Unless you don't like the supernatural at all...
El Laberinto del Fauno (a.k.a. Pan's Labyrinth) blew my mind, but I was all too aware that Del Toro added so much fantasy in this movie Fauno would not get the praise from audiences Espinazo had received. Initial reports proved me wrong, but these days the grapevine informs me of critical voices. This can only be classified as "a shame".
El Laberinto del Fauno tells the story of a young girl, Ofelia, who is on her way - with her pregnant mother - to her 'new father', Captain Vidal. Vidal is a vicious commanding officer, relentless against anyone he suspects is against him. Needless to say, Ofelia doesn't like him. This brings more worries to Ofelia's mind, which already had trouble coping with the war. El Laberinto is set in 1944, just after Franco's victory. Incapable of facing the real world, Ofelia invents her own. But Ofelia's imaginary world isn't a peaceful world, it's full of mythical creatures and monsters. A mirror world only slightly favourable to the cruel reality.
That is so quite special: at the same time we, the audience, get to see the world through Ofelia's eyes as well as experience a tale which is typical for wartime stories. As protesting against church and state could cost you dearly in times of war, your criticism had to be covered. And what better way to cover them than by creating a fable? The monsters in Ofelia's dream world are perfect representations of church and state, adding a thinly veiled layer to the movie.
The real world is also shown is all its bloody reality: people are tortured and executed in several cruel ways. When I saw the movie several people had to look away during certain scenes, occasionally accompanied by "eek" and "yuck" sounds.
Now, whereas El Laberinto manages to exist on several layers, not every layer will be equally obvious to audiences. El Laberinto del Fauno is the second movie in Del Toro's trilogy about the Spanish civil war. El Espinazo del Diablo, which was set in an orphanage with a ghost and an unexploded bomb, was the first part (2001) and 3993, a ghost story about 'the hostages left to fortune by the past' set in 1990's Spain and with connections with the Spanish Civil War in 1939, will close the trilogy in 2009.
I myself have been trained in literature and movies enough to see the allegories in El Laberinto, but I have heard of disappointed cinema-goers who didn't pick up on what the film is trying to show. That is why I deeply recommend El Laberinto del Fauno, but only after you've seen El Espinazo del Diablo, another Del Toro movie that never got the credits it deserved.
El Laberinto del Fauno is supported by a great cast: Ariadna Gil (Ofelia's mother) and Sergi Lopez (Vidal) should be familiar by now, Ivana Baquero (as the young Ofelia) is a nice discovery. Aside from directing it, Del Toro also wrote the script. The special effects are mind-blowing, even though some will probably look a bit outdated in a few years (filmmakers should always beware of trying the latest technologies). Then again, as this is a fable, it is not that bad when an effect will not look 100% realistically. Is El Laberinto del Fauno a perfect movie? No, almost but not completely. But is it the best and most original movie of 2006? Without a doubt!