Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) (2006)
Reviewed on 2007 May 21
Watching a Guillermo del Toro movie is kind of like ordering dessert in a four-star restaurant off a menu written in a foreign language. You may have no idea what you’ll be getting, but you know it’s going to be dark and rich and good, so you really don’t care.
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is the young daughter of Carmen (Ariadna Gil), a genteel woman who marries a brutal army officer (Sergi Lopez) when her first husband dies. It’s 1944, fascist Spain, and initially Capitan Vidal must have seemed like a good catch for the widow. Ofelia inherited her mother’s pretty face and her resolve — she’s unflappable as they travel to their new home. During one stop, Ofelia sees one of the first inhabitants of her new home, and I won’t spoil it but most of the girls I know would have run away screaming (and probably quite a few boys). Not Ofelia. She smiles at the creature, because she believes it to be a fairy.
Her new stepfather is a tyrant, who wants to control her and Carmen (really, everyone he knows) and pretty much insists that the baby her mother is carrying will come out male to carry on his name. She ponders all this one night as she tries to sleep, when the fairy comes flying into her window. The critter leads her into the run-down labyrinth in the woods behind Vidal’s yard and she meets a faun. This isn’t Mr. Tumnus; this thing looks like something that C.S. Lewis would have dreamt about when he had the flu. Ofelia has the presence of mind to ask the thing his name, and he explains he really has many, older than wind. He’s a very eloquent monster, and he convinces her that her help is needed in restoring their kingdom. She’ll have to trust him and do what he says, all the while avoiding all the other dangers of her new home.
This reminds me of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales I read when I was a kid (the un-sugarcoated ones I hid under my bed). Guillermo del Toro created an old-fashioned, dark fairy tale and wove it with a storyline about the hell Franco created. It’s as wonderful as it is dark, but it’s not for young children. The special effects are wonderful, even if they are a bit gruesome at times.
Four chocolate morsels.