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  Pan's Labyrinth The Surreal Life
Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massagué, Gonzalo Uriarte, Eusebio Lázaro, Francisco Vidal, Juanjo Cucalón, Lina Mira, Federico Luppi
Genre: Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: There was a legend that the princess from a world of fantasy wanted so much to join the real world that she crossed over, with the consequence that she suffered and died for her trouble. But her father the king did not give up on her soul, which he believed was still in existence and waiting for the right time to rejoin the fantasy world. In the real world, the Spanish Civil War has just ended with the fascists the victors, although there are still pockets of resistance fighters who are refusing to give up the battle which they have lost. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a little girl whose father has died, and now her mother (Ariadna Gil) is pregnant by her new husband, a cruel Captain (Sergi López) in the army. As they approach their new home, a settlement in the forest, they have to stop the car so the fragile mother can be sick, and Ofelia wanders along the road until she finds a stone statue missing its eye. She replaces it with a rock that fits perfectly and is rewarded with the sight of strange insect, which she believes is a fairy. This is the first hint that Ofelia's imagination is running away with her...

When Guillermo del Toro's fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, or El Laberinto del Fauno as it was originally named, was released it received the highest praise of his career, even winning Oscars in non-special effects categories which was unusual for a film in this genre. The plot marries a drama about the aftermath of that Civil War with the dreams of its young heroine without explaining whether how much of what we are seeing is real or not, at least until the end. And even then, why Ofelia should be living out such vivid illusions is only elaborated on as far as the fact that she likes to lose herself in books. Fortunately for del Toro, the historical landscape he fashions is in much the same method as the made up stuff and for many will be equally remote in terms of their own imaginations even as he brings them to the fore.

The title comes from the labyrinth that is nearby the manor house where the Captain and his new family are staying, and Ofelia wanders in, following that insect she saw earlier. There, in the centre, she meets the film's most impressive creation, Doug Jones heavily made up as the Faun (he's not actually supposed to be Pan as far as I can tell), complete with horns and hooves and the rest, all utterly convincing to look at. Indeed, that rather obviously computer generated insect/fairy apart, the special effects and makeup are superb throughout, as should be expected as the writer/director knew his way around such things by this point. The Faun gives Ofelia three tasks to undergo between then and the full moon, and a book, but she's dismayed to see the pages are blank.

Nevertheless Ofelia takes the book back to the house and hides it away to peruse later that night. With her mother in such a bad way, pushed around in a wheelchair at the Captain's insistence, Ofelia's place in the world is tenuous at best as her stepfather holds no love for her, and will be happier if his wife dies in childbirth as long as the baby son survives. López is excellent as the steely-eyed and ruthless military man, but almost takes over the film as he's the best realised character, leaving the good guys suffering nobly and Baquero fine but somewhat overshadowed although she's supposed to be the lead. The fantasy sequences are not abundant, yet make quite an impression, with Ofelia (who does make some dubious choices, and is not as smart as she could have been) encountering a huge toad and a skeletal creature with its eyes in its hands as part of her tasks. The futility of the rebels' fight, and indeed Ofelia's will, makes for a poignant atmosphere, and there may be a triumph of sorts by the close, but Pan's Labyrinth is best when dazzling the eye and less surefooted when tugging the heartstrings. Music by Javier Navarrete.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Guillermo del Toro  (1964 - )

Stylish Mexican horror director who moves between personal projects and Hollywood blockbusters. After a couple of short films, he earned international attention with unusual vampire chiller Cronos. Mimic was an artistically disappointing follow up, but he enjoyed success with vampire action sequel Blade II, spooky ghost story The Devil's Backbone, and another horror comic adaptation, Hellboy. Spanish Civil War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth was widely seen as a triumph and won three Oscars. After a long spell in production hell since Hellboy II, he returned with giant monster mash Pacific Rim and gothic chiller Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water, an unconventional horror romance, garnered him Oscars.

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