Pan's Labyrinth (2006): ***½
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
This movie is very similar thematically with Del
Toro's earlier film, The Devil's Backbone. Both films are
intensely realistic looks at the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
Both films contrast the intense realism with splashes of intense
fantasy. Both films are about child protagonists trying to deal
with reality and fantasy simultaneously, and using one to solve
problems in the other. Both films feel very similar.
And they're both very good.
Pan's Labyrinth takes place in a remote wooded
mountainous area, where young Ofelia and her very poorly pregnant
mother Carmen are sequestered at the behest of "The Captain,"
Carmen's second husband (not Ofelia's real father). Nearby the chateau
where they all live is an ancient stone labyrinth where Ofelia stumbles
upon a Faun who, oddly enough, never introduces himself as Pan (the
original Spanish title of the movie translates simply as "The
Faun's Labyrinth." I don't know where "Pan" came
from). The Faun believes that Ofelia may have an important connection
to a mystical underworld, and so sets Ofelia on a series of quests/tests.
All this is set against the backdrop of Carmen's
deteriorating health. The doctors advised that she not be moved
so late in her pregnancy, but "The Captain" insisted that
his son would be born wherever "The Captain" was. Meanwhile,
"The Captain" is obsessed with finding the rebel commie
scum that is hiding out in the mountains. "The Captain"
is a very evil man.
This is NOT a movie that is appropriate for children.
It is rated R, and for good reason. The horrors of fascist crimes
of war are not flinched away from, and neither are the horrors in
the fantasy world. They're both often very, very gross and very
graphic. And they're all really, really well done.
I'm of two minds about this movie. It is so beautifully
made, and all of the performances (especially Sergi López
as Captain Vidal and Doug Jones as basically anything humanoid in
the fantasy segments) are very gripping. The special effects are
excellent for the most part. And yet for some reason it failed to
move me as much as it seemed to want to. I can't put my finger on
why not, and I find that very frustrating. All of the elements are
there for a four-star film, and yet when all was said and done I
did not have the sense of catharsis that is necessary for me to
give a film four stars. Pan's Labyrinth just kind of was.
I enjoyed it thoroughly, but something in the way the story was
constructed or told prevented it from becoming completely absorbing.
I can't quite wrap my brain around why the film
was made. What is its purpose? It seems to truly want to be something
more than just sheer entertainment, but it just didn't deliver much
else for me, and I think that's why it feels ½ star empty.
But I highly recommend Pan's Labyrinth
because it does that thing that my favorite movies all do: It showed
me something I would never have been able to see anywhere else.