by Johnny Butane
What can I say about Pan’s Labyrinth that more eloquent, educated and well-versed critics haven’t already? It’s quite a daunting task to review a film that is as loved and respected as Pan’s Labyrinth has become, and one that is as layered and complex. But I will give it a try.
The story is set in Spain in 1944; the Spanish Civil War has been over for five years, but the nation is still in ruins. A woman named Carmen (Gil) arrives at the home of her new husband, Fascist Captain Vidal (Lopez), a truly repulsive character, with her young daughter Ofelia (Baquero). Ofelia has a very vivid imagination that immediately rubs Captain Vidal the wrong way as he is a man of reality, detail, and structure.
She soon discovers a labyrinth hidden on Vidal’s property and residing within it a faun, a legendary creature of which Pan was one (del Toro insists the faun in the film is not Pan; the film is called such because of the English translation). She is told that she is the long-lost princess of a hidden kingdom and if she can compete three specific tasks, she will prove her heritage and be allowed to return to her true mother and father.
Like all good fairy tales, said challenges are dangerous and life threatening, especially when Ofelia is forced to go against her stepfather to complete one of them. As Ofelia’s real life becomes more and more painful - her mother becomes deathly ill because of the baby she is carrying and Vidal begins to become even more cruel to her and those around him - she retreats deeper into the world of the faun and its brethren. The two worlds must collide at some point, but the results were surely not what I expected.
Del Toro has crafted such a beautiful, moving, and at the same time horrific film that I don’t think anyone expected, even those of us who have been championing the man since Cronos. His commentary on the DVD reveals just how layered and complex Pan’s Labyrinth is; literally every single element of every shot, every angle, every musical cue, every light was planned out by Guillermo ahead of time to make Pan’s Labyrinth the instantly unforgettable masterpiece that it is.