movie film review | chris tookey

Pan's Labyrinth/ El Laberinto del Fauno

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  Pan's Labyrinth/  El Laberinto del Fauno Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.67 /10
Ivana Baquero , Sergi Lopez , Maribel Verdu
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Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro

Released: 2006
Origin: Mexico/ Spain
Colour: C
Length: 112

Like Lewis Carrollís Alice In Wonderland and the Oscar-winning cartoon Spirited Away, Panís Labyrinth is about a young girl being drawn into a fantasy world thatís alluring but life-threatening.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A fairy Ė or is it really only an insect that the little girl thinks is a fairy? Ė lures Ofelia (touchingly played by Ivana Baquero) into an ancient labyrinth of stone, where an ugly, gaunt and distinctly mangy faun (Doug Jones) - whoís not noticeably related to that nice Mr Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Ė tells her sheís a Princess of the Underworld. In order to gain her birthright she must accomplish three tasks before the moon is full, in a few nightsí time.

These tasks are intercut with the girlís real life, set against the background of the Spanish Civil War, which is no less menacing than the fantastical creatures she must confront. Her mother (Alex Angulo) is heavily pregnant but seriously ill with pre-natal problems.

Ofeliaís super-sinister stepfather (Sergi Lopez from Dirty Pretty Things and Harry, Heís Here To Help) is a captain in Francoís fascist army, and likes nothing better than to bludgeon the local peasants to death, torture suspected traitors and shoot softies repeatedly in the head, to make sure that theyíre quite, quite dead.

At first, he looks like a laughably melodramatic villain Ė the kind that Ken Loach might create when in uncompromisingly didactic, agit-prop mode. But Lopez, a terrific actor, finds surprising depth in the man, and through sheer force of personality turns him into a convincing yet mythic metaphor for authoritarian masculinity.

His austere cruelty is offset by the caring femininity of one of his servants (exquisitely played by Maribel Verdu) who becomes a surrogate mother to the captainís stepdaughter, and is at the same time feeding (both literally and information-wise) the anti-fascists in the woods.

Panís Labyrinth is a fantasy film, but itís emphatically not for children. Itís as savage as the grimmest of Grimmís fairy tales. Like Terry Gilliamís last picture, Tideland, this is a grown-up attempt to dissect the uses and limitations of our fantasies. The brutality of reality is shown in unflinching, and even sadistic, close-up.

Be warned that there are beating, slashings and torture scenes that will make many an adult flinch. This is not a film for everyone. But if you have a strong stomach, it is one of the most ambitious and original pictures of the year, with sights that may haunt your nightmares for years to come.

Iím not sure how popular it will be. Itís far too brutal, bloody and disturbing for small children, and itís lucky to have escaped the censors with only a 15 certificate. At the same time, its baroque visual style and fantastical subject-matter are unlikely to appeal to prosaic adults. Early on, Ofeliaís mother inveighs against fairy-tales, telling her ďYouíre too old to be filling your head with that nonsenseĒ. Many grown-ups will agree. If you hated The Lord of the Rings, you should probably give this a miss.

The fantasy sequences might have been more imaginative and less under-populated. Despite some memorable special effects, it is possible to see that this has not had the budget of, say, a Peter Jackson movie or the Narnian Chronicles. But I sympathise with del Toroís desire to reclaim fantasy from the realm of the twee, the comforting and the Disneyfied. Many old fairy-tales have a violent subtext.

Panís Labyrinth reveals why people need fantasies, whether or not they are true, in order to survive the l realities of life. And del Toro makes the point effectively that monsters do not only exist in our dreams. Lopezís stepfather may seem exaggeratedly wicked, but the newspapers every day bring us more evidence of manís inhumanity to man, and to child.

Del Toroís commercial reputation rests on two comic-inspired movies he made in Hollywood: Blade 2 and (by far the better of the pair) Hellboy. Panís Labyrinth is an attempt to marry the production values of a mid-level Hollywood movie with the more subversive, intellectual streak del Toro showed in his Spanish-speaking movies, The Devilís Backbone and his debut, which is still my favourite, Cronos.

Panís Labyrinth isnít a total success, but it confirms that del Toro is one of the few genuinely visionary, and original, directors working today. And his best may still be to come.

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