Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Alex Angulo, Manolo Solo, Cesar Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massague
Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
MPAA Rating: R for graphic violence and some language
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 05/27/2006
IMDB

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Maze of Our Lives

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Mexican-born director Guillermo Del Toro always makes exciting, curious blends of horror and fairy tales, and, like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton, often draws inspiration from the childlike. He has quickly established a singular visual style, filled with underground caverns and images of gears and clockwork, and he has shown an ability to jump back and forth between personal projects (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone) and Hollywood movies (Blade II, Hellboy) without compromise. His newest film, Pan's Labyrinth, is arguably his most accomplished to date.

Just after the fascist victory in Spain in 1944, a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), journeys with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to live in a remote castle with her new stepfather, the fascist Capitán Vidal (Sergi López). Once there, she discovers the title labyrinth, and its primary resident the "Faun" (Doug Jones), who charges her with three tasks.

The film definitely has its share of thrills, but ultimately doesn't care about happy endings or coming-of-age stories. Rather, it mixes the horrifying events of real-life with the fairy tale world, and asks some very tough questions. Ofelia, as well as every other character, must trust her best judgment, even when the answer is not clear (it's not simply a question of good and bad). Del Toro brilliantly uses the fairy tale imagery to coax viewers down this increasingly dark path. My only quibble with the film is that Vidal is too obviously thoroughly evil; he should have been a bit more human, a bit more seductive, to make the journey even more rewarding.

Note: I've seen Pan's Labyrinth several more times since this initial review, and I've come to appreciate it even more. I think it's something close to a masterpiece. The Criterion Collection has released a worthy new Blu-ray near the film's tenth anniversary, in 2016, with an extraordinarily beautiful audio & video transfer. It contains a multitude of extras, including a commentary track by Del Toro, the director's notebooks, interviews, animated comics, trailers, and other stuff. Some of the extras are from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, but several are new, including a 40-minute interview with Del Toro, conducted by novelist Cornelia Funke (Inkheart). Film critic Michael Atkinson provides a liner notes essay. The film was also released in a box set with Cronos and The Devil's Backbone, which also includes a new hardcover book; if you don't already own those two titles, I'd recommend springing for the trio.

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