Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Guillermo Del Toro’s film luscious and alluring gothic masterpiece is the pinnacle of fantasy filmmaking. It was sad to watch the disappointment on Del Toro’s face when “Lives of Others” was read out as the (albeit deserving) winner of the Best Foreign Language film Oscar last year. But it will take nothing away from "Pan's Labyrinth", which will remain a special film for a long time to come.
Where do I start praising this film? It’s the equivalent of a classic Grim’s fairytale – a fantastical story rooted in the reality of Earth. But like the Brother’s Grim, Del Toro sets his story in the darkest of places – in the desolate and dark forests of the Spanish countryside. It’s also WWII, a time of Fascist tyranny when the military exercised power with maximum cruelty.
Del Toro’s Red Riding Hood is Ofelia, a child who has arrived with her pregnant and widowed mother to live at an army barracks with her new stepfather Vidal (of course step-parents were frequently the evil monsters in Grim’s tales as well). Outside in the woods, Ofelia discovers an abandoned hedge maze which leads to a door to another world. From this world, a centaur-beast emerges and proclaims Ofelia to be the lost Princess of their land who has come back to reclaim her kingdom. Ofelia undergoes a series of tasks to prove she is the true successor.
Oflelia’s fantasy adventures distract her from the evil presided over by her stepfather, Capt Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Vidal strives to hunt down the scattered rebels who fight for freedom and subvert the Fascist authorities. One of whom is the secret boyfriend of Ofelia’s confidant Mercedes, the lowly cook who sabotages Vidal from within. When Ofelia’s brother is born, she realizes the danger he will face being in the care of his sadistic new father. Ofelia’s courage allows her to save her brother and reclaim her crown as the Queen of the subterranean world.
Del Toro’s skills as writer should not be overlooked. Del Toro juggles several storylines and subplots with accurate skill. His screenplay is near-perfect. It's a classically structured screenplay – something that could be workshopped in a Robert McKee course. Mercedes’ plotline involving her boyfriend and the situations she puts herself in to save the day become more dangerous as the film progresses. The stakes are at its highest when she’s placed in the Vidal’s evil torture room (which is perfectly set up and paid off in the third act). The third act also merges the two main storylines when Ofelia is chased by her stepfather into the Labyrinth – thus merging her fantasy world with the real world.
The heartbreaking finale is worthy of the Grim’s influence. The manner in which Ofelia enters the fantasy world is a risky decision for Del Toro – something which few Hollywood blockbusters would be brave enough to do. But it’s what raises his film above Narnia, Potter, and in my personal opinion, LOTR.
In perhaps the most fan-appreciative follow up to this critically-acclaimed masterpiece Del Toro has unpretentiously jumped back into genre, with a sequel to “Hellboy”. And after that according to the IMDB he'll complete his Spanish Civil War trilogy with a ghost story entitled "3993". Enjoy.