The International Writers Magazine: Film

Pan's Labyrinth Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Ivana Baquero .... Ofelia
Sergi López .... Capitán Vidal
Maribel Verdú .... Mercedes
Ariadna Gil .... Carmen
Doug Jones .... Fauno/Monstruo comeniños
Álex Angulo .... Dr. Ferreiro
Roger Casamajor .... Pedro
César Vea .... Serrano

Jen Ames review

Prepare to be shocked, prepare to be mesmerised, prepare to be dazzled, horrified and pulled apart all at the same time. Prepare to step into the labyrinth.

It is 1944. the Nazis are almost beaten elsewhere, but Spain still suffers under the fascist regime. This is where our beautiful and macabre story takes place. Ophelia, a little girl who loves to dream and reach the world of make believe through fairy stories, teaches us that fairy tales are not necessarily for children, and don’t all have a happy ending. Del Toro’s fascination with the origin and brutality of early fairy stories shines through the whole duration of what can only be described as a masterpiece.

Pan’s Labyrinth, or Laberinto del Fauno as it’s known in Spanish, is a stunning depiction of the clash between the horrors of both fantasy and reality. Ophelia uses the world of the fairies to escape the horrors she is facing in the world of adults, under a cruel stepfather who has uprooted her and her mother to live with him in the military outpost he controls. Caring not for the well being of Ophelia or her mother his only motive is to acquire his son, Ofelia’s stepbrother. However, it soon becomes apparent that the fairy world is just as dangerous and can be just as horrific as the human world with all its gun, the fighting, conspiracy and murder, not forgetting bloody torture. Don’t miss that scene, it will make you cry out loud and squirm in your seat, and no, that wasn’t just me- it was the entire cinema. I’m not usually squeamish when it comes to films, but I buried my face into the shoulder of the person next to me several times throughout. And I could see and hear the evidence of others doing the same around me.

Upon travelling to the centre of the labyrinth, Ofelia meets a faun, who tells her that her spirit is that of their princess, who escaped to earth centuries ago, and was now returning home via Ofelia. To prove that she is not a mere mortal, and that she is indeed the princess, she must perform three tasks.

Upon her way she encounters monsters of terrifying magnitudes, stares death in the face several times, and completes seemingly impossible adventures in an attempt to escape to the magical world of make believe. However, it all takes a terrifying turn for the worst when she disobeys the faun and nearly gets caught by the ‘Pale man’ a monster who will not stir unless you eat the food from his table, and if you do will eat you alive in return. We must remember that Ofelia is but a small child, and as children often are, she is tempted by the sumptuous looking food, despite being instructed never to touch the food! She only escapes by the skin of her teeth. However, the faun is furious, especially when he learns that Ofelia’s disobedience has cost him the lives of two of the fairies he sent to guide her. He abandons her in disgust, taking with him the magical world, and the magical mandrake cure he had given her to keep her mother alive. She is in the late stages of pregnancy and is weakening rapidly.

Ofelia's only friend and confidant is Mercedes (Maribel Verdu's) a quiet but rebellious housekeeper who is in league with the rebels on the hillside who fight against the fascist regime. When found out, she has to leave suddenly, but not before knifing her Captain Vidal in the face. (The scenes of him stitching his face flinch from nothing, alchohol never looked so painful.

Ofelia is now suddenly plunged into a world far more terrifying than fantasy or reality, into a world of loneliness and no hope.

Sergi Lopez, whose 'Capitan Vidal' is one of the most sadistic film creations in film and it is an astonishing one of the strongest female roles I've seen in many a year, and she is supported by a wealth of talent.

Ivana Baquero who plays Ophelia, is one of the best child actors I have ever seen, and it astonished me to find out she was a mere 12 years old. She makes every scene credible and hauntingly realistic, and despite the obvious input of CGI (which by the way is fantastic) I would imagine the filming of this piece to be almost as frightening as watching the finished result. The combination of an imagination that can let anything happen to you, no matter how devastating and terrible, and a reality where no-one cares about what does happen to you, conjures up a pure nightmare.

This film shows both the beauty and horror of the fairy world, and serves as a chilling reminder that there is no real escape from reality. Teaming the grotesque with the innocent, the fantastic with the disgusting, Del Toro creates a breathtaking fable of love, hatred, despair, hope, courage, fear and magic.

©  Jennie Ames December 2006



© Hackwriters 1999-2007 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.