Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/21/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) is the story of a young 12-year old girl who moves to the countryside with her pregnant-mother and new, militant stepfather. Reveling into a world of fantasy and fairy tales, the girl enters a world where she is the long-lost daughter of a mythic figure where she has to take three tasks to regain a kingdom. A change of pace of sorts into the world of fantasy, del Toro heightens his skill in technical visuals and his gift for storytelling for a film that crosses fantasy and art-house. Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdu, Roger Casamajor, and del Toro regular Doug Jones. El Laberinto del Fauno is an enchanting, visual spectacle from Guillermo del Toro.
It's 1944 Spain just after the Spanish Civil War where a young, 12-year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is going to the northern countryside with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to meet her new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). On their way, Carmen gets a little sick as Ofelia finds a stone that looked like an eye and when she placed it onto a statue, an insect-like fairy appears. Arriving onto the house, Vidal meets his wife and stepdaughter as he is trying to rid of the last group of rebels in the mountains. Ofelia meets Vidal's maid Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) and Dr. Ferreiro (Alex Angulo) who realizes that Carmen shouldn't have traveled this late in her pregnancy as Vidal insists that he wants his soon-to-be born son with him. While Vidal and his associates Serrano (Cesar Vea) and Garces (Manolo Solo) plan their attack and await supplies, Carmen now rests as she is feeling ill. Ofelia meanwhile, is amazed by the fairy that she enters into an old, abandoned labyrinth that upon walking into it, she meets a 7-foot tall faun (Doug Jones) where he claims that she looks like the old princess of the underworld. In order to fulfill her rightful place to the underworld, she must fill out three tasks.
On the day Vidal is to have a dinner party, Ofelia uses a mysterious book, given by the faun, to do her first task to feed three stones to a toad underneath an big, old tree that is dying. Through the mud, Ofelia succeeds in her task where she retrieves a gold key. Upon her return, Ofelia learns that Mercedes is a spy who is trying to help her brother Pedro (Roger Casamajor), who is leading the rebels. With her mother ill and becoming increasingly ill due to the pregnancy, she is to be sedated by Dr. Ferreiro as the faun helps Ofelia to give her a mandrake root that will help ease the pain of her mother's pregnancy. For her second task, the faun gives her a chalk to create a magical door into a world with limited time where she must retrieve a gold dagger from a pale man (Doug Jones) who is having a feast. With the help of a few more fairies, Ofelia gets the dagger but ignoring the warning of the faun and the fairies, she eats a couple of grapes that awakes the pale man in which she barely escapes.
The ignored warning upsets the faun who decides to no longer help her and tells her that she will be cursed in the real world while her soul will not return to the underworld. With the resistance growing, Vidal captures a soldier where he finds out that there is more than one spy while he also learns about the mandrake in which, Carmen's ignorance towards magic begins to creates tragedy during the birth of her son. After the birth, Vidal begins to make suspicions towards Ofelia and learns that Mercedes is the spy. Yet, after she escapes with Ofelia in tow, she is captured only to escape again as Ofelia is trapped. The faun reappears with a fairy in giving Ofelia one more chance to complete the final task in which is to take her baby brother and take him to the underworld. Yet, the timing becomes crucial as the rebels take charge where Vidal tries to take control and learn what Ofelia is trying to do with his newborn son.
Given to Guillermo del Toro's fascination with fairy tales and fantasy, El Laberinto del Fauno is truly an adult fairy tale of sorts with some parts that is easily accessible for children. While the film has two different stories, one about the resistance in the post-Spanish Civil War and Ofelia's story, it's balanced to contrast the different worlds. Really, this film is about a young girl trying to escape the real world and try to make something better for herself, her mother and brother, and those who want to find something better. Yet, the background of the Spanish Civil War is handled perfectly through del Toro's script as he reveals the resistance against Fascist Spain where the realities of the times were harsh. The politics of those times isn't what del Toro aims for rather than telling this story of a little girl whose love of fairy tales and fantasy come to life as she brings a bit of hope to people who have seem to lost some faith.
While del Toro's writing is wonderfully told with a balance towards the brutality of war and mysticism of fantasy, it's his directing that really gets both films together. The directing is masterful as he manages to get characters to have their own stories where the parallel to Mercedes and Ofelia are similar since they're two females wanting something better. Though there's a cynicism towards things like magic and fantasy, del Toro offers something that is opposite in which audiences can relate to. Not only is del Toro a very gifted director, which was shown in films like Hellboy and Blade 2, but he knows how to tell stories and give characters moments to shine where there's scenes in which Vidal is paying attention to his broken stopwatch which is a reminder about his own father. The characters are fully-developed including the villainous Vidal who is a bit more complex in terms of his attentive to detail and revealing a bit of his own form of mercy. Overall, the directing and the presentation that del Toro brings is amazing and surpasses the film he's done previously.
Helping del Toro out in his visual presentation is longtime cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Navarro's visual coloring of blue through many of the film's night sequences, interior and exterior, are exquisite including a few sequences in the rain in the day time mixed in with green and red are wonderful. Even some of the daytime exterior settings are wonderfully shot as Navarro's camerawork is some of the best shots ever shown on film. Production designer Eugenio Caballero does amazing work in not just re-creating the country look of Northern Spain circa 1944 but the designs of the stone statue, the labyrinth, and the world of the pale man. Visual effects supervisors Everett Burrell and Edward Irastorza do great work in the film's design of creatures and fairies to give the film a majestic look of fantasy. Makeup artist Jose Quetglas does some spectacular work in having Doug Jones play both the faun and pale man where the make-up for the creatures is great with help from costume designers Lala Huete and Rocio Redondo for the faun suit including the clothes for the other characters.
Editor Bernat Vilaplana does some wonderful job in the editing including the shift from sequences to sequence where a camera shot would move to something black from one location to a different one. Plus, it's done with great rhythm and style as it's not too fast or too slow while giving takes that make the audience aware of what's going on. Sound designer Martin Hernandez and recordist Miguel Angel Polo do great work in bringing the tense atmosphere of the war and fantasy sequences to add a bit of suspense to a few scenes where the sound work is exquisite. Music composer Javier Navarette brings a wonderfully melodic, enchanting score that plays to the film's fantasy moments with such subtlety while bigger arrangements are done during the film's more intense sequences.
The film's cast is brilliant with notable small performances from Cesar Vea and Manolo Solo as Vidal's associates while Roger Casamajor is great as Mercedes' rebel brother Pedro. Ariadna Gil is great as Carmen, the mother who tries to tell her daughter to grow up from her world of fantasy while dealing with her own pregnancy and pain. Alex Angulo is great as the sympathetic, caring Dr. Ferreiro, who doesn't take side on the war other than he believes that loyalty can be misguided in a crucial scene with Sergi Lopez. Doug Jones is brilliant in his dual role as the pale man and the faun who is complex in his strictness while being a sympathetic figure as Jones brings a lot to role, especially being an American actor having to do the film in Spanish, which he doesn't speak prior to this film. Maribel Verdu of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame gives probably one of her best performances as the maternal Mercedes who cares for Ofelia while having to play servant to Vidal and dealing with her own lack of faith. Verdu goes through the biggest development of character as she has to play spy for the resistance while being a woman who has to do right while trying to believe her lost faith in fantasy.
Sergi Lopez is excellent as the malevolent, strict Captain Vidal with his brutal approach to interrogation and violence while having his own strange beliefs of death and destiny. Lopez adds a lot to a character that could've been a caricature but Lopez's charisma and sadism makes Captain Vidal an unforgettable villain. Finally, there's 12-year old Ivana Baquero in what is truly an amazing performance. Baquero brings a joy and innocence to a girl who has a love for fantasy yet can't help but be in awe of this mysterious world in contrast to what's going on in the real world. Baquero adds a lot to the character as she is trying to help her mother while being aware that her new stepfather is someone she can't accept as her father. She is a truly sincere character as Baquero really brings a lot of compassion and weight to this performance.
El Laberinto del Fauno is truly a majestic, imaginative film from Guillermo del Toro and company. With a great cast led by Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, and Doug Jones, this film truly proves of del Toro's talents as a director. While this film does share similar ideas of bleak worlds with other features like Babel and Children of Men, which is both directed by Mexican directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron respectively. The film del Toro brings is a bit more accessible in the fact that it's a fairy tale of sorts in the way that children and adults can admire. Though, it should be warned that the film does have some graphic violence that might scare children. Yet, this film has made it clear that Guillermo del Toro is becoming a top international director who has helped make Mexico becoming a leading country for cinema. In the end, El Laberinto del Fauno is a must-see for anyone who loves fantasy.
Guillermo del Toro Films: Cronos - Mimic/Mimic (Director's Cut) - The Devil's Backbone - Blade II - Hellboy - Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Pacific Rim - Crimson Peak - The Shape of Water - The Auteurs #10: Guillermo del Toro
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