And now I've finally seen PAN'S LABYRINTH. If it wasn't for years of self control, I think I might have wet 'em.
So much has already been said about the film, and about Roger Ebert's proclamation of it being "a fairy tale for adults" that it's hard not to go into the movie without already having a preconceived set of notions as to what you;re going to see. Do yourself a favor and leave them behind. It'll serve you better in the long run.
In PAN'S LABYRINTH Guillermo del Toro serves up a perfect companion piece to his incredible DEVIL'S BACKBONE, set in roughly the same time period and dealing with similar themes, most notably the horrors and images of war as seen through the eyes of children and adults. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the story of young Ofelia, arriving with her pregnant mother to an old mill, recently converted to a military base camp by her evil stepfather, a captain in the Spanish Civil War. Behind the mill in the forest lies a labyrinth, the center of which contains a stone pit leading down beneath the earth. Ofelia is led their by a combination insect/fairy (in one of the coolest transformations this side of the Decepticons), and meets the Faun, who tells her she is actually the reincarnated soul of the Princess of the Underworld, and has three challenges to face in order to be reunited with her actual father, the King.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the last stand of the mill against the freedom fighters that line the hills, fighting for their lives and their ideas of a free Spain. Guillermo del Toro shines here, inviting the spirit of Hemingway (whose For Whom the Bell Tolls was an inspiration) and allowing the horrors of war to live side by side next to the more fantastic elements in such a way that they perfectly complement each other, instead of jarring against one another. This is really where the film stands out, and I think where the quote about being a "fairy tale for adults" comes from. There is no attempt to make the amazing creatures Ofelia come into contact with during her quest palatable for family consumption; each creature, from the terrifying Pale Man to the simply unbelievable Faun (both played to perfection by del Toro regular Doug Jones), are created and played to occupy perfectly the roles they have in the film - the dangers and temptations that are skewered reflections of the world Ofelia is trapped in.
Del Toro embodies his film with a sincerity and warmth that is often missing from more fantasy-themed films. At no time do the effects or elaborate sets take you out of the movie. It's his most successful attempt to immerse his viewers in the story. A lot of the credit for this, though, goes to the actors who bring the "real world" portion of the movie to life. 12 year old Ivana Baquero plays Ofelia with a sadness and innocence that goes against the more world-weary roles you find children playing more and more. I hated Sergi Lopez's sadistic Captain Vidal from the moment he appeared on film, so he definitely nailed that role. Doug Jones proves that (nothing against Andy Serkis) once again he is the best actor you've never actually seen.
But the one person deserving their own special paragraph is the absolutely lovely Maribel Verdu, who not only is wonderful as Ofelia's confidant Mercedes, but is one of the sexiest, beautiful women who ever walked the earth, and one of the handful of women who actually make me go weak in the knees. It's not as apparent in PAN'S LABYRINTH, but I can't help but think of her in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN every time I see her.
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. Drool........
And I think that's the signal to end the gushing and raving about PAN'S LABYRINTH. All too rare to see a film filled with wonder, fantasy, and human drama - and a guy with the head of a goat to boot. A+++