El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro (2006)
jusco’s Rating: ★★★★★
jusco’s Rating: ★★★★★
I’ll kick off with a review of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a more-than-worthy film to begin with. I was hesitant to watch it with high expectations despite hearing nothing but rave reviews, lest I end up disappointed, but I was foolish to even worry in the first place; del Toro has created a captivating masterpiece. A Spanish-language dark fantasy (watch in Spanish with English subtitles), it’s a fascinating journey into a young girl’s adventurous mind and the courage, often lacked even by adults, which she musters to overcome her fears and the hardships she faces.
Very simply, the premise is this: Ofelia, a young girl, travels with her pregnant mum to a mill in the middle of the Spanish woods where her stepfather, a heartless Captain, is leading a group of men against the remaining remnants of several Spanish Maquis (click for definition). She stumbles across a fairy and a faun located deep inside a labyrinth who assigns three dangerous tasks for her to complete. For what reason, and whether she completes them, you’ll have to watch to find out.
(Ofelia and the Faun. Yes, it’s difficult to tell but Ofelia is the one on the right, not the left.)
The strength lies in several areas, but most notably in Ivana Baquero’s stellar performance as Ofelia (she was only 11 at the time!) and the various supporting roles. In fact, it’s unfair to label the other actors/actresses as supporting characters as they held considerably main roles as well. Maribel Verdú, as the caring housekeeper, Mercedes, carried out an especially powerful and astounding performance (I knew I recognised her somewhere; ah, right! She was in Y tu mamá también, portraying a very different character).
In addition to the acting, the Cinematography and Art Direction is superb (it didn’t win those Academy Awards for nothing!). The shots (especially the panning shots) are so natural but integral to the film, providing well balanced pacing and expertly works the audience’s emotions.
(Disclaimer: Do take the R-rating seriously. It’s rather violent and scary for young children, so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a family-friendly fantasy film just because the main character is a young girl. Even I shuddered at places; have you ever seen such an eerie and… well, weird creature before?)
But what establishes this film as different from other fantasy films is not only the creepy fantasy element (do remember, it is a dark film), but also the intense and thrilling background story of the conflict between the Fascist regime led by the Captain against the rebelling anarchists. In fact, the war element is just as strong as the fantasy element. They both surprisingly and naturally work well together.
Highly recommended, and if you have the chance, do watch it. It’s been a while since I was so emotionally attached to a film. You’re in for an electrifying ride, I guarantee it.
Personal Highlights: In one of the tasks entrusted to Ofelia, del Toro crafts one of the most riveting and suspense-filled scenes in the entire film, carried out brilliantly by Ivana. According to del Toro, Stephen King, the master of horror, squirmed during this very scene!