Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.
Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece.
Following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves to a rural town with her pregnant mother (Ariadne Gil) to live with her Fascist military stepfather (Sergi López) who is determined to weed out resistance fighters to Franco’s dictatorship. It’s in this remote town that Ofelia meets a faun in the centre of a labyrinth who tells her that she is a princess. However, to claim her rightful place in this magical land she must perform certain gruesome tasks to prove her royalty.
It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.
To embody the young protagonist, we are gifted an outstanding performance from Ivana Baquero who carries a heavy weight on her young shoulders and does so, with a skill beyond her years. Sergi Lopez also provides marvellous support as the bestial Captain Vidal who’s a smouldering villain that’s on a par with any of the war genre’s nastiest characters.
It’s very difficult to find criticism in this film as there simply, isn’t any. The only one that stands out is in the film’s title. It’s slightly misleading as “Pan” never actually features here. The original international title translates as “Labyrinth of the Fuan” which is probably the most pedantic gripe you’ll ever hear from me.
A stunning piece of work that’s both beautifully and horrifically executed. Modern masterpiece is a term that gets brandished around too often these days but this is one that’s certainly deserving of such praise.