pan's labyrinth | guillermo del toro | ivana baquero | ariadna gil | sergi lopez | drama | mexico | fantasy | war | spain | creature | monster | monsters | maribel verdu | doug jones | alex angulo | creatures | manolo solo | cesar vea | roger casamajor | mythology
Film: Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López
This film was one that I heard about it, but it took me until after I graduated from college to see that first time. I had seen a couple of writer/director Guillermo del Toro films earlier, so I had an idea what I was expecting coming in. After that first viewing, I was blown away if I’m honest. I’ve now seen this a handful of times, with two of them in the theater, which is an experience in of itself. The synopsis is in the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie, but captivating fantasy world.
We begin with a girl who has blood coming out of her nose and it is going in reverse. She is Ivana Baquero. We then get voice over as the same girl is fleeing from an underground city. We learn that she was princess there and fled to Earth, but then passed away. Her father the king is staying alive until her soul comes back. It might be in a different body, but her soul continues to live on.
It then shifts to Ofelia (Baquero) in the back of a car with her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil). She is pregnant and married to Captain Vidal (Sergi López). We learn that Spain just ended a civil war and the fascist regime won. He’s having her come to the castle that is his base of operations as they hunt the remaining rebels that are living in the woods on the mountainside. He believes that his son should be born where his father is.
That is good enough for the background of the world we are in. Our main character of Ofelia loves fairy tales. On their journey to the castle, her mother becomes ill and needs to get out for air. While this is happening, Ofelia finds a stone with an eye on it. Nearby she finds a statue that it is missing from and puts it back. From the statue’s mouth comes an insect. Ofelia thinks it is a fairy and tells her mother so.
They arrive at the castle and are met by Vidal, who is annoyed they’re 15 minutes late. He pressures Carmen to get into a wheelchair, saying that she shouldn’t be putting any unneeded stress on herself. There is an uneasy interaction with Ofelia and Vidal. She then walks away from the vehicles, chasing after the insect she saw earlier. It leads her to a gate of a stone structure. The woman that runs the household here is Mercedes (Maribel Verdú). She tells Ofelia that this is old structure is a labyrinth and to not go into it for fear of getting lost.
Mother and daughter share a room, knowing that this new place might spook Ofelia. A doctor visits Carmen, a Dr. Ferreiro (Álex Angulo). He gives her some medicine to help her sleep. That night, Ofelia is visited by the insect again. At first, she doesn’t see it and it scares her. She shows a picture to it and it changes into an actual fairy. It has her follow it to the labyrinth. In the center, she goes down a set of stairs to find a creature known as Fauno (Doug Jones). I’m assuming he is Pan and that a fauna is like a Satyr in Greek mythology. He tells her that she is a princess of a magical kingdom. The full moon is coming so if she wants to go back to this kingdom, she needs to complete three tasks. A book is given to her that will tell her what to do. Is what Ofelia is seeing real or just her way of coping with the things she’s going through? Coupling with this are the harsh realities of her life with her mother, Captain Vidal and the war that is ranging in this area.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap. What I did want to bring up again is that two of my viewings have been in the theater on 35mm film. I’m glad to have had that experience. The first thing I have to say about the film is that del Toro can make some beautiful films. The castle is such an old and amazing setting. It is isolated and there are rebels around it. This is in stark contrast with the mythical places that Ofelia goes to that look so real. Being that the base of operations is in a castle and with how Ofelia loves fairy tales, it meshes so well. Plus, del Toro is great at the dark fairy narrative.
I want to delve a bit more into this part of the movie. The creatures he creates are so interesting and I just want to learn more about them. Whether it is Fauno who seems like he wants to help Ofelia to the Pale Man (Jones) that is terrifying. There is even this giant toad that Ofelia faces off against. I love the allegory about what she is doing as she copes with the new environment that she is in. Her imagination runs away with her, but things that she does are happening in the world too. It bends belief and understanding. It makes me wonder what is real and what isn’t.
Coupling with this is the love the story of Vidal striving for greatness and trying to live up to his father, who was a much more honorable man than him. I get the idea that his father was hard and that he couldn’t live up what the lofty goals. I almost get the idea that is why he is such an evil character, that he is going to be great no matter what. There is a character at a dinner that talks about his father and how honorable he was. It feels like the movie is saying that living honorable you will truly live forever. Vidal is too ruthless for this though.
This is also interesting in tackling the ideas of the Spanish Civil War. It didn’t click with me until my last couple viewings that this is during World War II. I knew that Spain sided with Germany and Italy, without fully joining their cause. It makes sense the more I’ve learned. Their country was in turmoil so they couldn’t participate. It is also powerful that Mercedes and Dr. Ferreiro are putting their lives on the line knowing how evil the man they’re living with is. There is a tough scene to watch where Vidal tortures a soldier to get information. We don’t see it happening. The aftermath is powerful. This helps to build tension for sure.
Now I do have to say, for a film that runs almost 2 hours, it doesn’t feel like it. I never get bored. It gives us the back-story, introduces us to the characters and then just goes on its way. There are such magical things that Ofelia sees and even though you know that it’s probably not real, she thinks it is. I like that the things she is doing have real world implications. The ending is sad, but I think it is fitting for the type of film we are getting here of a dark fairy tale.
The acting is something that helps it as well. Baquero is good for being a child actor. I feel myself wanting to protect her and wishing she would stop doing these things that hurt her mother. She is bringing unwanted attention on herself and ultimately those around her. There’s even a defiance against Vidal and she knows it. She does a good job. López is also good. He is such a villain that you want him to lose. I think if you can get a reaction out of me, you are doing something right and that is exactly what he did. Verdú, Gil and Angulo are all solid as well. It is interesting that Verdú is kind of the third main character, which I love the duality that she has with Vidal. He underestimates her in a misogynistic way and that storyline plays out very well. Shout out to Jones who is such a great body actor as the Fauno and Pale Man. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what is needed as well.
Something I needed to cover here is the effects. There are some good practical effects here, but the surprising thing is the CGI. It’s quite amazing that his film is from 2006 and for the most part the CGI holds up. From the insects to things that we see in the fantasy world even to what happens with Vidal’s face. They’re do so well and it shows that if you know what you’re doing and have the movie, you can really use CGI to your advantage. The cinematography is also shot beautifully. It brings such character to its surroundings and makes them feel that much more real.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. For the most part it fits for the scenes for what is needed. They went more orchestral which helps with bringing the feeling of this being a dark fairy tale. I also wanted to comment that there is almost a ‘theme song’. It turns out that it is from Mercedes and it is a nursery rhyme. She doesn’t remember the words but hums the tune. I like it though as it is both comforting and haunting.
Now with that said, this is an amazing film. I like that del Toro can suck me in with a dark fairy that is showing the effects of the Spanish Civil War and this young girl’s plight. It is a modern one and I like the allegories we are seeing. The pacing of this helps to keep it interesting as it never gets boring in its two-hour running time. The acting is good across the board. Special credit to Baquero, López and Jones. The effects are something else that even though it uses a lot of CGI. This most recent viewing I have nitpicks, but it looks amazing. Soundtrack for the film fits for what is needed and I love the tune that is hummed. It adds something else to the atmosphere. I will warn you, this film is from Mexico and Spain, so I had to watch it with subtitles on. If that’s an issue, avoid this. I believe there is a dubbed version on my DVD. If you’ve never seen this film, I highly recommend it for horror and non-horror fans alike.
My Rating: 10 out of 10