Opening 22 Feb 2007
This is without doubt a powerful film. It literally grabs you from the first heavy breathing of a child in distress to the last scene of this same child in peaceful relief. It’s 1944 in post civil-war Spain. The fascists have established a camp with the intent to flush out the last resistance fighters from the hillsides. Pregnant Carmen (Ariadna Gil) and her 11-year-old daughter Ofèlia (Ivana Baquero) travel to the camp to be reunited with Carmen’s second husband Captain Vidal (Sergi López). The captain awaits them impatiently as they are 15 minutes late due to Carmen being unwell along the way. The captain is ruthless against all of humanity, murdering and torturing according to the watch in his hand and his own sadistic rules. He has ordered his wife to his side so that his son can be born in his presence. Little Ofélia is excess baggage. She soon sees through everyone’s façade, from her stepfather to Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the housekeeper, who secretly supports her brother and other guerrillas with supplies and information. Ofélia also finds a bit of support in Mercedes (who puts new meaning into wearing an apron), but her fierce courage comes from a fantasy figure called Pan, whom she “meets” in an old labyrinth on the grounds. Other figures are an old toad, a preying mantis which turns into a fairy, and a pale man, etc. Pan will declare her a true princess if she can pass three tests.
Director, producer and script-writer Guillermo del Toro from Mexico has gathered excellent actors as well as experts in editing, photography, costumes, music, and sets. There is a Spanish touch in every scene, and he says that he was inspired by artists Goya and Arthur Rackham. Mercedes, Ofélía, and Carmen could have stepped out of an Almodóvar film. Captain Vidal is so real that each time he shaved, I yearned to snatch the razor from his hand and slice his throat, this pig, who got his kicks from torturing a man who stutters. Although the main character is a young girl, this is not a children’s film, even less so than, e.g., Jane Champion’s The Piano with Anna Paquin as a young girl. A fairy tale, yes, but definitely not recommended for children under 16. Where did all the good Mexican directors suddenly come from? Besides del Toro, we recently enjoyed Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men as well as Alejandro González Inárritus’ Babel. Pan’s Labyrinth was successful at festivals in Cannes, Toronto and New York and was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film 2007. (Becky Tan)