Towards the end of the bloody Spanish civil war, 10 year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is sent to an isolated mansion with her heavily pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadne Gil). Lonely and intimidated by her new stepfather Vidal (Sergi Lopez), Ofelia discovers an overgrown labyrinth where she meets Pan (Doug Jones), an ancient satyr. Fascinated by fairy tales, Ofelia is captivated by Pan and his stories of the fairy world. However, when her mother falls ill, Ofelia makes a pact with Pan in order to save her. In exchange, Ofelia must undertake three challenges to prove her worth. These challenges take her on a journey to another world where she must use her wit and guile to overcome the creatures that lurk beneath.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If light and the absence of light is cinema's original visual language, so contrast is the language of drama, where good v bad is the first duo, incorporating subordinates like love v hate, hate v love or pain v pleasure. Guillermo del Toro's amazing film concertinas these primal notions in a period setting during the brutal Civil War in Spain. Civil Wars are always rich for exploration, of course, unearthing the most depraved aspects of humanity alongside our most noble characteristics. Now there's a contrast, and del Toro makes the most of it as he juxtaposes Fascism with innocence. The former, he maintains, is what the latter destroys - if it can.
The film's extraordinary production design - it's haunting visual presence contrasting with its sometimes harrowing displays of violence - is one of its primary languages. It speaks of dangerous yet beautiful fantasy against deadly and ugly reality.
Cast to perfection with Sergi Lopez as the cold, cruel and inhumane Fascist officer Vidal, the film offers a sensory-rich experience on several levels. Both Maribel Verdú and Ariadne Gil shine as the adult women at the centre of the story and Ivana Baquero is wonderful as the young Ofelia, on whose shoulders most of the story hangs.
Exceptional effects are scattered through the film alongside the traditional cinematic mis en scene, and the tension never lets up. Pan's Labyrinth is a challenging, confronting and complex work that will haunt you for a very long time.
Review by Louise Keller:
Fairytales are seeded in the darkest of forests, and Pan's Labyrinth emanates as one of the most enticing. Set after the Spanish Civil War on a backdrop of fascism, Guillermo del Toro's visceral film is an inspired contradiction of innocence and corruption. It's a harsh world in which an impressionable eleven year old and her pregnant mother find themselves, surrounded by conflict, violence and subservience. Fantasy is the pathway to salvation for the young Ofelia, with miniature winged fairies and a lofty, magical faun with massive curled horns, who entice her to visit the mysterious labyrinth at the bottom of the garden. Powerful images and themes disturb and stimulate as fantasy and reality come face to face.
There are three tasks that Ivana Baquero's Ofelia is asked to do by Pan, the imposing faun, in order for her to fulfill the prophecy and to prove she is not mortal. Baquero is wonderful. Her Ofelia behaves exactly as a little girl would in her situation, and the spark in her eyes makes us believe everything she sees. Like the sequence when she draws a door with the magic chalk leading her into a banquet room where the skeletal faceless Pale Man with eyeballs in the palms of his hands sits motionless. While the Pale Man would pass muster as the monster in any horror film, it is Sergi Lopez' callous, sadistic Captain Vidal, who makes our skin crawl. It's a shattering and terrifying performance by Lopez, who looks dangerous even when he shaves. Every movement he makes is as jagged as broken glass, this cold and heartless soldier whose only weakness is his pride. I gasped when Lopez has his face slashed by a knife, and the following sequence when he stitches it up himself, is the stuff nightmares are made of.
It's a heartbreaking tale of cruelty and hopelessness, softened only by the wondrous fantasy of Ofelia's imaginary world. Maribel Verdú's Mercedes and Ofelia strike an all-important bond as they share secrets and lies. The production design works beautifully as does the fabulously complex score which swells and falls with darkness and light. Del Toro's film is searing and haunting as it takes us from the bleak to the sublime.
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PAN'S LABYRINTH (MA)
El Laberinto del Fauno
CAST: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdu, Alex Angulo, Roger Casamajor, Ceasr Vea
PRODUCER: Guillermo del Torro, Alvaro Augustin, Alfonso Cuaron, Bertha Navarro, Frida Torresblanco
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Torro
SCRIPT: Guillermo del Torro
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro
EDITOR: Bernat Vilaplana
MUSIC: Javier Navarrete
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eugenio Caballero
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 18, 2007