REVIEW: El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth] [2006]

“My mother told me to be wary of fauns”

Finally Buffalo is able to see the phenomenon El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth] for itself. All the hype and the acclaim have definitely raised expectations for this film by visionary Guillermo del Toro. For myself, I really just wanted to see a del Toro film outside of the Hollywood realm. Sure I liked both Blade II and Hellboy, but it’s the other Spanish language films, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, that have been intriguing me for years. After watching his latest effort, I can say nothing less than that I can’t wait to check those other two out even more. Pan’s is an amazing feat of imagination and great storytelling put together as no one else could.

The one aspect that lingers upon its completion is the fact that everything that occurred seemed so original, and each plot progression a surprise. Maybe this fact impresses me more because of the homage to other films. Many things here are so familiar and have been seen before, yet each instance seems fresh. The ability to make these activities his is astonishing. Also, the deft handling of the fairy-tale narrative with its real world war counterpart is expertly done. The film never delves completely into the mythical realm, (actually this fact disappointed me), and keeps its two paths running parallel while also enhancing each other. There are some very nice transitions between both environments as well as great editing montages showing glimpses of each at one time.

In the end, this film is about war and fighting for what you believe is right. When the time comes to defeat an unjust tyrant, you need to be willing to sacrifice yourself for the cause of humanity. We are thrown into a civil war in Spain against the regime that has recently taken over. The rebels refuse to back down to a general, (Sergi López exuding his malicious intent at every turn), who is a brutal warlord that does not see all of Spain as equal. This monster is not just up against the people’s guerilla rebellion, however, but also on the other side of his stepdaughter’s quest for identity. Young Ofelia, played magnificently by Ivana Baquero in a role that normally plays in child-fare yet needs a greater sense of weight in an adult tale like this, (it is R-rated after all), sees her mother making the error of marrying this ruthless army man. Her mother is sick with child after the general made them travel late in her pregnancy in order to see his heir born. With utter disregard for all but his namesake, Ofelia must disappear into her imagination to find out what she is truly made of. With the death of her father and the slow detachment to her mother, the child puts herself into a fantasy story she has read about a girl from an underground world that came to the surface, allowing for her soul to remain forever. Ofelia takes the mantle of this princess and begins her quest to leave the atrocities happening around her for the royal life of a happier realm.

I really like the fact that del Toro was not afraid to make this film for adults. The underlying morality is similar to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, yet here it does not cater to a young sensibility. This is not a girl renouncing her brother and needing to go on a quest to discover her love for others, this is a child trapped amongst the hell that earth can be. Death and pain surround her at all turns and she then must manifest that danger into her fantasies of survival. There are no cute and cuddly creatures on display here. The fairies guiding her are created from insects and have agendas of their own, the conduit between worlds, Pan, is an aging faun with a temper and disgust for humanity, and the evil entities are truly scary, (the toad and the Pale Man). There is blood, and lots of it, throughout the duration, whether during battle scenes or not. This is the world these characters are living in and rather than cop-out saying Ofelia is just a child who does not understand the gravity of what’s happening, del Toro allows her to not only realize everything, but be the one that the audience watches battle through the hardships.

All fantasy moments are beautifully orchestrated and gorgeous to look at. Whether at the portal to the underground world with Pan, to the majestic hallway of the Pale Man, you really get to see the director’s imagination to full effect. I don’t believe it could have been pulled off quite as effectively without Doug Jones becoming these mythical beings. Like he did as Abe Sapien in Hellboy, he truly creates these creatures and makes them real through motion. Maribel Verdú is also amazing as heart and soul to Ofelia while her mother lays sick in bed. The relationship these two strike up is necessary to counteract what is happening with the war, and her Verdú’s involvement in that story thread is also effective.

My only real problem with this film, a true visceral masterpiece otherwise, is the treatment of the mystical storyline. While it is executed to perfection, it is merely just an afterthought to what is happening. The fantasy aspect almost appears to only serve a purpose in keeping Ofelia away from the battles and never truly fleshes itself into its own unique identity. I wish for there to have been more fantastical elements rather than just being used as an escape. With that said, however, the conclusion truly is as effective as it can be in bringing the two worlds together. Del Toro surprises again, right to the end, unafraid to finish a fairytale against the genre’s usual type.

El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth] 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Maribel Verdú as Mercedes and Ivana Baquero as Ofelia in Picturehouse movie, Pan’s Labyrinth (Laberinto del Fauno, El) – 2006
[2] Ivana Baquero as Ofelia in Drama Fantasy Horror, Pan’s Labyrinth (Laberinto del Fauno, El) – 2006


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