Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth: Astonishing, Riveting, Brilliant
by Alex Billington
January 19, 2007
From the brilliant mind of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro comes his latest film, Pan's Labyrinth, a Spanish-language adult fairy tale that exudes excellence and vivid imagery in every last frame. Only del Toro's imagination can create such a wonderful mix of dramatic tragedy and fantasy.
In Pan's Labyrinth, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her mother (Ariadna Gil) to a rural area in Northern Spain after the Fascist GeneralÃsimo Francisco Franco ascends to power after World War II. There they meet up with her mother's new husband, the vicious and brutal Capitan Vidal (Sergi LÃ³pez), who is hunting the hillsides around the area for remaining rebels. Ofelia imagines a fairy tale world that she lives in every day as her family and surroundings are engulfed in the Fascist repression and the menacing attitude of the relentless Vidal. In a curious trip to a nearby labyrinth she meets Pan, an intriguing fawn creature who sends Ofelia on three quests to prove she is the princess of the purportedly imaginary kingdom.
Much of Pan's Labyrinth bleeds, both literally and figuratively, with del Toro's filmmaking expertise. The color, the mood, and the intensity of every scene is vibrant and emotionally striking. This is no children's fairy tale; it's a unique imagining from Guillermo del Toro, who is also behind much of the creature development and who wrote the entire script. Budgets are not an issue for del Toro - his imagination is nearly endless, which plays out beautifully on screen.
All of the characters in the film are played well, and Sergi LÃ³pez's turn as Capitan Vidal stands out as one of the greatest of the year. Vidal is a ruthless madman who nearly kills everyone around him, including his closest friends and his family. Not for one moment does LÃ³pez lose his grasp on his character's intense cruelty and truly deranged mind. Pan and Ofelia cannot go overlooked either. Pan is a costumed role that only Doug Jones can play, like Andy Serkis (King Kong, Lord of the Rings) and his motion-capture roles in the aforementioned films. Twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero gives one of the most captivating, convincing, and emotionally riveting child performances of 2006.
Pan's Labyrinth is a story built on the depth of the characters, not on how much fantasy can be thrown in. All of the scenes are very theatrical in their layout and positioning - this is the key to how del Toro develops each moment. His angles are perfect, allowing each scene to build its characters and play itself out through focus and positioning, an extraordinary technique to truly experience. And although the film is limited to the mill, farmhouse and surrounding hillside, it's very progressive and seemingly expansive. Del Toro chooses his details to point out wisely - much like the oranges in The Godfather.
As strong as the imagery is, the film begins to come apart in attempting to build a theme. Where is the moral lesson, where is the encompassing theme at the end? What does it want to emphasize about life once we've reached the finale? This is my only minor issue with what is otherwise an amazing film.
Guillermo del Toro is a visionary director who has taken a vast step in exploring cinema visually. Pan's Labyrinth is a phenomenal film with breathtaking camerawork, character development, and a fairy tale story unlike anything, yet is also full of astonishment. Although hard to truly enjoy because of its dark, violent, and brutal nature, the pure fascination that comes from an experience like Pan's Labyrinth is more than worth your time and money.