Pan’s Labyrinth

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ariadna Gil, Ivana
Baquero, Doug Jones,
Manolo Solo, Lina Mira.
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes

Maribel Verdú and Ivana Baquero. Photo by TERESA ISASI.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a children’s story that poses very adult questions against the traditionally dark and malevolent backdrop of a gothic fairy tale.  Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, in his sixth effort, keeps with his flair for dynamic visuals coupled with strong characters who face moral dilemmas.

Told through the eyes of Ofelia, an imaginative little girl with an obsession for fairytales, the film opens on a rural rode along the countryside.  The year is 1944, the place, Spain in midst of a Civil War, a familiar topic explored in another Guillermo film, The Devil’s Backbone

Ofelia is with her pregnant mother, Carmen, traveling to a mill that has been converted into a military outpost by her soon-to-be stepfather Captain Vidal.  At a brief roadside stop, Ofelia encounters a large dragonfly that leads her into the forest, and promises of magic to come.

Borrowing from many of classic fairytale motifs, Guillermo del Toro crafts a child’s fantasy alongside real human tragedy.  The monsters that exist between the dusty pages of gothic tales pale in comparison to the evil men are capable of, especially during times of war.  The Franco regime is particularly monstrous—their killings were committed without hesitation or thought, and, unlike monsters, they were very real.

Del Toro has assembled a brilliant cast for this film, beginning with the youngest, and perhaps most inspired of the lot, Spanish actress Ivana Baquero.  She channels both the naïve optimism and hardened world-weariness of Ofelia with such strength and grace that I would not object to any award bestowed upon her for this performance.  The Spanish veterans are equally powerful.  Maribel Verdu shines as a spy working for her brother who is a leader of the rebel movement.  Ariadna Gil plays against part, as Carmen.  She gives the role a tremendous amount of sensitivity and grace, despite the brutality of the situations in which she finds herself.  Sergi Lopez, a kind and genteel man in person, invokes such pure, cold evil; it feels very little like acting.
A clean, efficient script, effortless performances, and one of the finest examples of stellar cinematography I’ve seen this year combine to make Pan’s Labyrinth a memorable experience. 

The collaborators del Toro has worked with in recent years have emerged at the forefront of today’s cinema.  They are consistently willing to work both within and outside the studio system, have proved to be in high demand and favorites amongst actors, producers, and studio chiefs.  Del Toro has created a very small masterpiece, contained within tight craftsmanship…and all this in between Hellboy projects.