4.5 out of 5 stars
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a brutally bewitching adult fantasy film that parallels the horror of two worlds (the realistic and the magical) – both having their own monsters.
It resonates something primal and mythic within the thread of the realistic. It is enchanting and dream-like, and at the same time, realistic and intellectual. It is beautiful and magical, while it is also morbid and horrible. This imaginative fantasy motion picture is a creative masterwork from Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro.
“Pan’s Labyrinth touches one’s inner child and inner cynic through an astonishingly dark fantasy story. It works within the framework of reality by bringing in sumptuous visual creepiness to a sad tale of incorruptible innocence and ultimate sacrifice. It has a simple story that speaks in poetic terms. It utilizes dark tones of magic realism and weaves a visually powerful and deeply affecting tale that speaks of the brutal in man.
Set in the turbulent times of 1944 Spain, the film juxtaposes inhuman military brutality with the idealism and imagery. It presents a portrait of childhood fears and hopes that brilliantly melds with the realms of fantasy and human history. It shows a moral eye by carefully crafting a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale.
With a breathtaking emotions and undoubted visual depth, Del Toro recreates the heart-wrenchingly sweet world for Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). Solidifying the gratifying surreal elements and fantastical instincts of the story, he makes it seem easy to make the otherworldly acceptable in the physical world and vice-versa. He brings his exquisite imagination and vision to pulsating life. With a profound and serious treatment of realism and surrealism wrapped within a carefully crafted drama, the film both has physical and magical forces that effectively endures a story resonating and offering various interpretations in every viewing.
The spellbinding aesthetics of childish imagination juxtaposed with adult brutality works under the film’s palette of supersaturated yellows, deep-toned blues, and bottomless blacks. The well-detailed visuals become a product of impressive cinematography and production design where fantasy and reality become equally vivid.
The film’s elements are as sharp as the Captain’s razor, as strange as the squeal of a magic root, and as beautiful as Ofelia’s innocent smile. The music complements the technically accomplished editing. The effects render seamless within the fully realized story. It employes such an “organic” feel (from CGIs to make-up and prosthetics) as compared to the completely digital look and feel of most of contemporary film’s special effects. The transitions are crafted so artistically and their simplicity and aesthetics don’t have any pretentious hullabaloos.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a film of great visual imagination depicting
a child’s dream world on one hand, and man’s inhumanity on the other. Within its realistic and magical layers working together in one common ground, it has a certain simplicity that defies the face of genre conventions.
As a film with a simple and straightforward plot working within multiple levels of intelligent writing, metaphors, and allegories, “Pan’s Labyrinth” features a bountiful of cinematic resources that function effectively for the right blend of fantasy, horror, history, and drama. It effortlessly integrates the dual story of a fascist-era Spain and the fairy tale world of a young girl’s imagination with a morally expansive and universal vision.
The beautifully aligned narrative structure blending the aftermath of the Spanish civil war and the parallel realm of fairies and fauns boldly captures the film’s fantasy and politics in the eyes of a young girl who comes to terms with the infernal realities of life. “Pan’s Labyrinth” entwines dark fairy tale and war violence in such enchanting heights.
The morality of the film is undeniably an achievement on its own. Crafted within such brilliant aesthetics, it mainly gives lessons about courage, righteousness, equality, and obedience. The film conveys that to be righteous in life, one must be unafraid to obey or disobey, for as long as the person knows and feels what is right and what is just. Obedience is not merely about obeying for obedience’s sake. In order to stand up against evil, one must not be afraid to disobey what is deemed wrong. These issues are very much apparent in the various scenes of the film — from the guerillas’ revolutionary acts to the doctor helping out the rebels to the Captain’s blind obedience for the sake of personal gain and pride to Ofelia’s eating of the forbidden food and her refusal to sacrifice her brother.
The religious issues presented in the film are very much apparent. Ofelia sacrifices herself and she gets rewarded in doing the good thing through her unification with her father. The Pale Man becoming a punisher who only acts when someone eats the food on his table without enough reasoning on why one should not eat them in the first place tend to reflect how some do’s and don’t’s in certain cultures or religions remain unexplained, yet they have clear punishments when rules get broken.
Del Toro extracts excellent performances from the cast. The ensemble incorporates history and classic fairy tale elements with a timeless appeal. Ivana Baquero exudes that charm and appeal to play the lead role Ofelia. From her physical features reminiscent of Audrey Tautou in “Amelie” to her moves gracefully yielding towards the film’s very vision, she really offers such enchanting beauty and talent.
Sergi López as Capitán Vidal effectively makes his character a human monster. The superbly talented Doug Jones as Pan/Faun makes his character a monster-looking creature with a goodness that both tests and guides his princess. Doug Jones as the Pale Man plays with such an evil stance to keep up with his eerie character. Ariadna Gil as Carmen Vidal, Ofelia’s mother, renders a fine performance as Ofelia’s beautiful but ailing mother. Maribel Verdú as Mercedes keeps up with her supporting role as a courageous and determined woman. Indeed, the film works not only in bringing out wonders in technical and thematic levels, but also in superbly displaying fine acting talents.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” bears the stamp of an auteur in Guillermo del Toro. Its fantasy elements glimmer with such dark and rich details of a war movie laced with political allegory and spun with grief and torment. It has an engaging story that pushes the limits of reality and fantasy shown in two distinctive worlds where the humans can be the real monsters and the creatures beneath the earth can be the ones showing genuine humanity.
“Innocence has a power evil cannot imagine,” the film goes. It is a rare treat to have such a powerful and enchanting film that can serve as a cinematic gift for its willing audience.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is one of the most fascinating adult fairy tale and darkly disturbing political fables in cinematic history.
Shortlist of Las Vegas stores where you can buy Blu-rays/DVDs:
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