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El Laberinto del Fauno

Pan's Labyrinth

Mexico/Spain/USA 2006
produced by
Álvaro Augustín, Alfonso Cuarón, Bertha Navarro, Guillermo del Toro, Frida Torresblanco, Belén Atienza (executive), Elena Manrique (executive) for Telecinco, Estudios Picasso, Tequila Gang, Esperanto Filmoj, CafeFX
directed by Guillermo del Toro
starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massagué, Gonzalo Uriarte, Eusebio Lázaro, Francisco Vidal, Juanjo Cucalón, Lina Mira, Mario Zorrilla, Sebastián Haro, Mila Espiga, Pepa Pedroche, María Jesús Gattoo, Ana Sáez, Chani Martín, Milo Taboada, Fernando Albizu, Pedro G.Marzo, Ínigo Garcés, Fernando Tielve, Federico Luppi, Chicho Campillo, Pablo Adán (voice)
written by Guillermo del Toro, music by Javier Navarrete, special efects by DDT Efectos Especiales, visual effects by CafeFX

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Spain 1944: The fascists under General Franco have pretty much taken over gouvernment, but in all corners of the country, there are still guerillas in hiding, trying to take their country back ...

Amidst this turbulent times, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is taken to a military outpost in the country by her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil), where they are going to live with mother's new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi López).

It is not long before Ofelia feels grossly neglected: Her mother's pregnancy is running into complications, the Captain makes no secret of loathing her, and the only friend she has among the staff, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), is having enough problems of her own, especially because her brother (Roger Casamajor is with the resistance, and she smuggles food and medication to him on a regular basis. Soon enough, Ofelia, who has always loved reading fairy tales, is retreating into a fantasy world of her own, which is also triggered by a nearby ancient labyrinth. Here, a faun (Doug Jones, voiced by Pablo Aldán) tells her that she is the long lost princess of the underworld, and she can return to her kingdom if she fulfills three tasks that are told to her in a magic book.

The first task is relatively simple: Climb into a dieing tree and feed a giant toad three stones that will kill it. This only results in very dirty cloths, and her best dress too, just on a night the Captain has a social function. Then Ofelia's mother falls ill, and even the doctor (Álex Angulo), actually one of the resistance, can't help her - when the faun visits Ofelia and gives her a magic root she has to keep under mama's bed in a bowl of milk for her and the baby to get better ... and it actually works too.

The second task: Ofelia has to go to a room where the Pale Man (Doug Jones again) is sleeping in front of a feast and fetch a dagger. Thing is, Ofelia mustn't eat any of his deliciously looking food, because that would awaken the Pale Man who likes to eat little girls ... But unfortunately, Ofelia can't resist the food and steals a grape - and she can escape the Pale Man only just. When the faun learns about her blunder, he tells her now she has lost her chance to return to her kingdom and he will leave for good.

Soon afterwards, Ofelia's mother and the Captain discover the magic root under mama's bed, give Ofelia a good scolding and burn the root - immediately afterwards Ofelia's mother breaks down, goes into labour and dies of childbirth (the baby is ok) - which is worrying because now Ofelia is subjected to the mercy of the Captain, and he has a history of shooting civilians and has already threatened her with a gun.

In the meantime, the resistance have attacked the outpost and emptied the storage rooms ... and soon enough, the Captain has figured there are traitors among his men, has found out the doctor and has shot him dead. He's not so sure yet about Mercedes, so to trap her he gives her a subtle warning. That night, Mercedes takes Ofelia and the two try to make a getaway ... right into the Captain's arms. Ofelia is locked in while the Captain prepares to torture Mercedes on his own, but Mercedes is not without resources, and soon enough she has freed herself, injured and humiliated the Captain and made an escape. The Captain sends his men after her, but they ride right into an ambush by the resistance.

Meanwhile, the faun has returned to Ofelia to give her one more chance. He helps her escape, but only under the condition that she brings her brother to him at the labyrinth that evening. And somehow, while the resistance attacks the outpost, Ofelia manages to escape with the boy, the Captain in hot pursuit. Once at the labyrinth though, Ofelia finds herself betrayed, because the faun wants the baby's innocent blood to open the gate to the underworld, something Ofelia isn't willing to give him. Meanwhile, the Captain has caught up with Ofelia. Now he retrieves his son from her, then shoots the poor kid in cold blood ... however before he knows it, he runs into the arms of Mercedes and the resistance, who take the kid from him and shoot him dead. The Captain pleaded them to tell his son that he died a hero, but all Mercedes promises him is that the boy will never even know his father's name.

Later, they find Ofelia, but she's already dead - yet the spilling of her own innocent blood has assured her entrance to the underworld, where she can finally resume her position as Princess ...

 

Above all else, Pan's Labyrinth is of course a fairy tale. But that, and the fact that the protagonist is a young girl, does not make it a children's film. Actually, Pan's Labyrinth is a very dark (and extremely atmospheric) journey into a girl's mind who fails to yet understand what's going on in the real world but tries to make up for it using her own imagination, thus mixes stark realism and fantasy elements aplenty into a surprisingly well-made amalgam. Guillermo del Toro's direction is flawless this time around, helped by great camerawork, a great cast (especially young Ivana Baquero) and of course a very intelligent script ... and even the CGI-effects work for the film instead of against it for a change.

Quite possibly the best film to date of director Guillermo del Toro, whose career seems to be torn between very personal genre films and routine if well-crafted Hollywood horror (series-)films.

Definitely recommended.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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