Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

Rating *5*

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro

Starring Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdú, Sergi López, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, Roger Casamajor and Doug Jone

A young girl is drawn into a mythical world of fairytales and given three tasks to complete by a faun, set against a backdrop of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and a pocket of guerrilla resistance fighting the fascist military rule.

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is a parable influenced by fairytales and Greek mythology that deals with sacrifice and the loss of innocence caused by the cruelty and senselessness of war – and the sheer horror that it leaves in its wake. It has a dreamlike quality and is at once both brutal and very moving.

Written and directed by the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose other films include ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Hellboy’, it is an extraordinary film that won 68 awards, including three Oscars, and received 58 other nominations following its release in 2006.

The acting is superb. Particular reference should be made to Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia, the young girl, and Maribel Verdú, who plays Mercedes, the sister of the leader of the guerrilla fighters.

Much has been written about the film, which has a 96% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 186 counted reviews, and I can add little, other than to recommend it without reservation. The film grossed a little over $83.2 million against a production budget of $19 million.

One word of warning; it depicts extreme acts of violence on occasions.


whitelabcoat said...

A friend took me to see this after he'd seen it earlier elsewhere and had been raving about it; and it was one of those rare times when it actually seemed to live up to the expectations placed on it. It's also one of the few films I've actually cried at in the cinema (although I have to give some credit to you-know-what-TV-show for prodding me to be less inclined to keep a stiff upper lip during 'something in my eye' moments). I loved this film and I'd also add, re the violence, I saw it shortly after having been exposed to Hostel - a film that simultaneously sickened (but not for the reasons it was probably supposed to) and bored me; and I remember commenting that the reason the violence worked so well in Pan's Labyrinth was that it actually was shocking and wasn't used simply to elicit the same response that, say, watching someone pick their nose would provoke.

Overall, my only complaint about the film is based on, if I remember correctly, the first challenge where (and I've heard other people make the same observation) it was hard to believe, given what she'd been through to get that far, she'd simply go ahead and do what she was explicitly told not to. A minor thing, perhaps, but in an otherwise pretty flawless film, it stood out.

alienlanes said...

The film was very moving. I certainly had “something in my eye” while watching it. Having said that, I have been known to cry watching an episode of ‘Cold Case’, so maybe my reaction is not entirely trustworthy!

I agree about the violence. It is an integral and essential part of the storytelling in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, as Ofelia uses her “childish” imagination to try to bring an end to the appalling horror unfolding all around her. The violence is clearly intended to sicken us as viewers, whereas, as you say, the violence served up in films like ‘Hostel’ simply serves to desensitise us – in fact, it would seem that we are supposed to enjoy it, and sadly some people seem to.

I mentioned it partly because I read a lot of very negative reviews of the film at ‘Lovefilm’ and one of the main criticisms was the violence, which some viewers found too much for them.

Regarding Ofelia’s readiness to undertake the first task, she had already displayed a stubborn streak by refusing to call the Captain “father”, despite being asked to do so by her mother. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I would say her willingness to ignore what she had been told and lose herself in her imagination, isolating herself from the world around her, was the only way she could deal with it.

I really liked the theme of different levels of the sacrifice of innocence and hope explored via Ofelia, Mercedes and Ofelia’s mother, Carmen.

alienlanes said...

It has just occurred to me that you might have been referring to the second task, rather than the first one, and Ofelia disobeying the instructions given to her by the faun (about eating the food). I had assumed you meant when she disobeyed her mother, who told her to make sure she did not get her dress and shoes dirty. That being the case, I agree it is a slight glitch, especially bearing in mind her otherwise very strong resolve in the face of the adversity she suffers.

whitelabcoat said...

Yes - it was the instruction concerning the food that bothered me (sorry, my memory failed me when considering the number of tasks). As you know, I'm all for little (and not so little) girls disobeying ... well ... everyone, but yeah, in that case it just seemed like a bloody stupid thing to do (as far as I recall, the faun was not operating as an agent of violent patriarchy!) and, therefore, out of character. As you say, a slight glitch, but it was disappointing since it's a flaw that arguably couldn't help stand out because the rest of the film is so good.