Thomas William Edge

Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

Film Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

In Film Reviews on October 3, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Ofelia at the Labyrinth

Ofelia at the Labyrinth

I don’t know wether this is going to become a regular staple of these blog-updates, it’s just something I’m trying out – and I guess you’d think I’d try reviewing a film that wasn’t three years as old as my first review feature, but I don’t know, I guess this film means a lot to me personally. I never hide it from people that it’s a dream of mine to Direct and Write a film of my own one day, and this is one of those special films that REALLY shows you how effective story telling can be and the beauty behind it.¬† Especially in Blu-Ray. ūüėČ For any one who hasn’t heard of the film or seen it (GO WATCH IT NOW) here’s a summary.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish film set in 1944;¬†¬† post-Spanish Civil War, during the Franquist repression. The story concerns Ofelia, a young girl who is relocated along with her Pregnant mother, to Captain Vidal’s (Ofelia’s Step-Father) post in the mountain regions where there’s an ongoing hunt to capture and kill the Spanish Maquis Guerrillas fighting against the oppressive Franco Regime. Carmen, Ofelia’s¬† Pregnant Mother is seriously ill and Captain Vidal makes it known that his priorities lie with the birth of his Son (which he presumes it will be) than the well-being of his Wife.

But Ofelia finds escapism in the discovery of a Fantasy world; an abandoned, overgrown Labryinth. Here she meets a Faun called Pan (hence, Pan’s Labyrinth)¬† who informs her of her secret Royal lineage and explains that Ofelia was once a Princess from another realm aeons ago who escaped into the light and lost all memory of her previous life.

Ofelia meets Pan the Faun.

Ofelia is keen to leave cruel Captain Vidal and join Pan but before Ofelia can claim her heritage Pan sets her a series of tasks to ensure that she is in fact the Princess – including entering the lair of the terrifying Pale Man, a blind, albino, child-eating monster who is sure to haunt the Nightmares of Children and Adults alike till the ends of time – an unforgettable Horror.

Along the way Ofelia befriends Captain Vidal’s house-keeper Mercedes, a woman with a¬† secret that connects her to the Guerrila’s hiding up in the Mountains and with the resident Doctor.

Now for the review.

Pan’s Labyrinth is essential viewing. It is the definitive Fairy-tale – a story that has been told and retold, written and rewritten throughout history, an ageless fascination with imagination, with escapism, with….I don’t know. I guess, there’s certainly some romanticism, at least for me, with those younger days when we had the capacity to¬† actually believe in¬† Fairies and we could see light in the darkest places of the world.¬† Ofelia is exactly this. She’s turns her back on the real world, Captain Vidal’s world, in favour of the otherworld that Pan offers her – a world where she is a Princess, a world which revolves around her. Somewhere she won’t be over-looked. At the very beginning of the film we learn that Ofelia lost her true Father and has, through her mother, inherited the cold-hearted Vidal as a step-father, a man who has no time for children. I can’t help but think that Ofelia’s desire to join Pan’s world has something to do with her want for attention – so where better for her to go than a place where she is revelled as a Princess and everything is about her. I think that makes sense.

Right from the beginning we believe in Del Torro’s worlds because he is such a masterful Director, and not just a Director, but a Story teller too. Everything from the setting to the soundtrack to the special effects has that Unique Del Torro spin on it that brings it to life. Just like when you watch a Tim Burton film and know it’s a Tim Burton film from the first ten seconds. Del Torro has similarly achieved that instant familiarity in his work and there’s something definitely comfortable with knowing what you’re watching.

I used the phrase ‘Del Torro’s worlds’ plural because there are two distinct stories being told here – Captain Vidal’s story and Ofelias Story.

In Captain Vidal’s story, his brutal battle with the Guerrilas secures him the role of¬† film’s antagonist as he fails to show Mercy or Compassion to anyone who he thinks is against him.¬†This is established early on when the Captain¬† is brought two men who’ve been caught up in the Mountains under suspicion of being part of¬† the Spanish Maquis resistance. Without time for pause Vidal brutally beats the first man to death with a bottle!¬† One of the most horrific and voilent scenes in any film I’ve witnessed. And Sergi Lopez, who plays Vidal, does it so well that from this moment on whenever he¬† is on screen…the audience draws breath. It’s interesting actually – if you compare the Captain to The Pale Man – well, The Pale Man literally pales in comparison. Maybe not to Ofelia but to the Audience. Because we know what he’s capable of.¬† Watching Sergi as Vidal is pure electric. We fear him as much as the people around him do.

In Ofelia’s story Pan the Faun seems to act as a counter-balance to Vidal. He offers Ofelia hope and shows Ofelia that there are doorways out of this world where she can hide away. Perhaps however, the tempation is too sweet for her young mind to calculate the danger she could be facing and even when Mercedes cautions that ‘you should never trust a Faun’ Ofelia does not listen.¬† Why? Because like we all are at that age – she is desperate to believe.

I also think that (and this is something that’s unique to someone like me who doesn’t understand a word of Spanish) with every character speaking in foreign tongue it seems to make the Fairy-Tale more magical. Of course this isn’t something Del Torro has done on purpose; he’s Spanish himself, after all. But I really don’t think my experience of the movie would have been the same if they’d all been speaking English. I don’t know. It’s just me, I suppose. I have an affinity with Subtitles and foreign films.

I have already mentioned how well-played Vidal is and how Sergi Lopez does the terrible character great justice,but what I haven’t mentioned is that, as good as he is,¬† Ivana Baquera playing Ofelia really steals the show – showing a maturity of acting that is well-above her age at the time this movie was released. I always feel sorry for Directors when they have to cast a child, especially as a main character, as the entire film can be ruined if the Child isn’t good enough or isn’t right. But Del Torro must have known from Ivana’s first audition that he had found somebody truly spectacular (I imagine it was the same kind of feeling that the late John Hughes had when he found a certain young actor named Macauly Culkin).¬† Ivana carries the film effortlessly and I was amazed to find that this was her first major role. I guess people are just born with it. Whatever it is.

Also worthy of note is Maribel Verdu playing Mercedes and Doug Jones playing Pan and The Pale Man.  Maribel Verdu at first plays Mercedes as sad, introverted and yet compassionate but later quickly breaks out of  her shell and show real, feirce guts and a memorable performance. Doug Jones once again shows audiences world-wide how immersive an Actor he is with unflinching confidence Рhe becomes Pan, and with every step, and every gesture, and with every twitch and tick  he adds  another dimension to Pan, creating a truly believable, Fantasy character.

All in all I’d say Pan’s Labyrinth is as close to perfect as a Fantasy film has ever been. It truly earns a place among Brother Grimm classics and the like. But please, don’t take my word for it. Watch it.

Sergi López as Cpt Vidal

Pan's Labyrinth

Ivana Baquero as Ofelia

See full size image

Maribel Verdu as Mercedes

Doug Jones as Pan