Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Gothic Fable: "El Laberinto del Fauno" ("Pan's Labyrinth")

2006's “El Laberinto del Fauno(“Pan's Labyrinth”*), written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is quite simply one of the best films of recent years. Fantastic in terms of genre and quality, this Mexican-Spanish production depicts the phantasmagoric adventures of Ophelia (Ivana Baquero), a 13-year-old girl in 1944 Spain -- five years after the official end of the civil war, but a time when guerrilla warfare was still being waged.

The movie opens with the narration of a brief fairy tale about a princess from an underground land who escapes to the earth's surface. This is followed by scenes of Ophelia and her widowed, pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), traveling to a village in Northwestern Spain to live with the new man in their lives, Vidal (Sergi López). Vidal is a cruel captain in dictator Franco's army, who is stationed with his men in the town in order to wipe out the vestiges of republican resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. While he is happy to welcome his expectant wife, Vidal shows little interest in or affection for stepdaughter. However, Ophelia strikes up a friendly relationship with the kindly housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), and the sympathetic local doctor (Alex Angulo), and soon discovers that the two of them are aiding the resistance fighters.

Ophelia, who enjoys reading fantasies, one day comes upon a walking-stick insect and follows it to the ruins of a labyrinth. Later that night the insect appears in her bedroom, where it turns into a fairy before leading her back to the labyrinth. This time she she meets a strange looking creature there, a faun (Doug Jones), who tells Ophelia that he believes she is in reality the princess from the narrative that opened the film, the last of her royal line, and that he and other creatures of her magical kingdom have been waiting for her return. He explains that in order to re-enter her realm, she must pass three challenges before the next full moon. As the viewer follows Ophelia on the quests the faun has set for her, a wonderful fantasy world combines with the harsh reality of the era to create a tale full of adventure and emotion that weaves its way towards a deadly, but lovely, climax.

The film, which won numerous awards, is in my opinion technically and artistically flawless. The costumes, make up and sets are out of this world. The music is hauntingly memorable. Ivana Baquero, the young actress who carries the movie as Ophelia, turns in a perfect performance. Sergi López embodies the evils of the military in a dictatorship through his portrayal of the vile Captain Vidal. Maribel Verdú is admirable and touching as the servant/spy, and the other supporting cast members all give excellent performances, as well.

If you have not seen “El Laberinto del Fauno,” I hope that one day you get a chance to experience this exquisite film, which not only suceeds as an intriguing fantasy, fable, adventure, and thriller, but also a moving homage to those who defied fascism in some of the darkest years of the 20th century.

Disfrutadlo amig@s,


* The title translates literally as, "The Labyrinth of the Faun," but was released in English speaking countries as, “Pan's Labyrinth”, despite del Toro's saying that the character of the faun had nothing to do with the creature from Greek mythology.