Pan's Labyrinth - A Haunting Visual Poetry

                      We don't need storytellers to summon up our demons for us; they are in our minds, all around us, more hideous and vile in imaginations than any stories. It is when we recognize that evil exists--that evil has existed for all time, and that that evil within us all--that we truly lose our innocence. It is of these things that Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro reminds us in "Pan's Labyrinth," a richly imagined and exquisitely violent film. 

                     Fantasy films don't often have the ambition to be historic allegories, but Pan's Labyrinth does. The movie takes place in Spain in 1944, just after a bloody civil war that resulted in the fascist dictator General Franco ruling the country. Del Toro seamlessly blends the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and with  a parallel realm of fairies and fauns.

       This fairy tale introduces us to a girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero ) whose father died in the Spanish Civil War and whose sickly mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), has recently wed the nasty fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez ). Captain Vidal has converted an old mill into military headquarters in the rural area. Carmen and her daughter Ofelia travels to join him. 

            One evening, Ofelia carrying a stack of books under her arm, who clearly is a fan of fables and fairy tales meets an insect that magically transforms into a fairy and guides her into a crumbling labyrinth near the house where she's staying. She meets Pan, a tall faun (Doug Jones) who tells Ofelia that she's actually a princess of the underworld who was lost when she visited the human world. To return to her father the king, Ofelia must complete three tasks.

          The magic spills over into her daily life, where she must protect her mother and unborn brother from the monster Mom has married. The Captain personally extracts confessions from suspected partisans. He personally executes them, and enjoys it. We don't really know what's coming, and the ending is ambiguous, so we can decide what happens for ourselves.
               del Toro deftly cuts back and forth between the worlds of fantasy and reality, finding striking parallels between them. Both worlds are fraught with violence and terror, but also strange beauty and the constant hope of redemption. While del Toro conjures up some frightening images, including an enormous toad that retches its own insides and a pale, tall, child-eating monstrosity whose eyes are located in its palms, no creature of his feverish imagination compares with the sadistic brutality of Captain Vidal.

               Vidal is fascism embodied. He is a triple threat as a chauvinist, a zealous soldier who looks forward to dying valiantly in battle, and a sadistic man who enjoys torturing captured guerrillas. It is hard to find fault in the performances. Twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero dominates every scene. With her quiet resilience and enormously expressive eyes, Baquero makes an ideal heroine.

              In the role of Vidal, López  gives a well-rounded portrayal, allowing us to see the captain's insecurities as well as his malevolence. His work is nearly surpassed by Maribel Verdú, who plays the housekeeper, Mercedes. In addition to secretly helping the rebels, Mercedes also befriends Ofelia. Verdu's skill with a blade makes for one of the film's most satisfying (and least magical) scenes. Guillermo Navarro's cinematography bathes a warm orange light while favoring a cool blue palette for the nighttime sequences.

             del Toro blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, suggesting that the miserable evil of fairy tales is merely a reflection of the world’s cruelties. Like conventional fairy tales, Pan’s Labyrinth offers a path to overcoming such cruelty, even if victory quite possibly resides in the realm of the imaginary. Also, be aware that despite the seeming fairy-tale motif of "Pan's Labyrinth," it is quite a harsh film, and its violence, always at the service of the story, is most certainly too intense for youngsters. Do not be mislead into thinking that fantasy movies are for children. It is not. 

            Compelling from first frame to last, Pan's Labyrinth never misses a chance to wrench, quell, or quicken your heart.            


Pan's Labyrinth - Imdb


Deepak Karthik said...

perfect blend !

Unknown said...

Good Detailed.. Review

Sunbyanyname said...

Scary though

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

An amazing cinematic experience... you review does great justice to the wonderland conjured up by Guillermo del Toro.

Arun Kumar said...

@Manish, Thank You. Keep visiting

@Murtaza Ali, Thanks for the comment.

ra said...

one hell of a perfect movie i everytime failed to understand :P