Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) ****
I never got around to seeing this a few years ago when it was a big sensation and won an Oscar. Lately, though, I’ve been working on my Spanish, so I have put some Spanish language films on the list. “Pan’s Labyrinth” turned out to be a great choice, because the actors speak Spanish more clearly than in some of the other films I have watched. This won’t be an important point for most viewers, but after re-watching “Nine Queens” recently and having a hard time telling for sure that the Argentinean actors were even speaking Spanish, it meant something to me. More important, of course, is that it is a crackin’ good movie.
Guillermo del Toro wrote and directed this dark adult fairy tale in which a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) attempts to escape from her miserable circumstances during the Spanish civil war. Ofelia’s widowed mother (Maribel Verdu) has married a captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), of Franco’s fascist army. Vidal turns out to be a ruthless, viscious leader, intent on rooting out the local resistance fighters by any means necessary. He is dutifully attentive to the needs of Ofelia and her mother, but his only real interest seems to be to have Ofelia’s mother bear him a son, which seems to be necessary for his macho self-image.
Thrust into this physically comfortable but emotionally hostile situation, Ofelia is distracted by a fairy, who leads her into a wooded labyrinth and ultimately to the bottom of a well, where she meets a faun. The faun explains that Ofelia is not the helpless, fatherless girl that she thinks she is. She is actually the re-incarnated daughter of the King of the underworld. If she can complete three dangerous, magical tasks, she can claim her birthright and join her real father. Meanwhile, Ofelia is surrounded by the violence and intrigue of the Spanish Civil War, as her stepfather tightens the clamps on the resistance. Her mother is distracted by a difficult pregnancy, so Ofelia is left to her fairies and her quests.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is, quite simply, an example of what good filmmaking looks like. Ofelia’s magical world is as visually spectacular as it is creepy. The story is good, and the acting is excellent. Sergi Lopez is particularly chilling as the brutal Captain Vidal. I did find the darker elements of the movie disturbing, and no one should mistake this for a movie for kids. For adults, though, it’s an excellent film, and it will even help you brush up on your Spanish.