A rich, beautiful, violent fairy tale for adults (despite the presence of a pre-teen lead), Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is easily the director’s most accomplished work, topping 2001’s excellent The Devil’s Backbone.
1944, post-Civil War Spain: rebels are still fighting fascist troops as Franco’s regime has seized control of the country.
Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother travel to a remote military outpost, where stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López) heads a military unit combating the last of the rebels.
Ofelia escapes reality through a mysterious labyrinth, meeting a faun who tells her she is a princess and gives her three assignments to complete.
The fantasy world Ofelia ventures into contrasts sharply with wartime reality, although it isn’t always a relief; scenes in the world of the faun are tense and frightening, and have dark (even sexual) overtones.
The harsh realities of war are presented in shockingly graphic (if isolated) fashion, catching the audience entirely off-guard in this otherwise (almost) family-friendly film.
The cast is remarkable, particularly young Ivana Baquero, effortlessly sympathetic in the lead, and Sergi López, as one of the most grotesquely memorable villains in recent years.
Effects are remarkable – original, stylized, bizarre.
The film represents a rare uncompromised cinematic vision, directed with precision and care; Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the best mainstream films in recent years.