This is a very special movie. To my mind, an instant classic. Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a fairy tale story for adults. Note the key word in the last sentence – adults. Do not mistake this as a movie suitable for children in any manner. There are many scenes of graphic violence and themes not suitable for the young minds. This is a war time story seen through the eyes of a twelve year old girl. With that caveat out of the way, the rest of us may proceed to engage ourselves in this well crafted story.
The movie takes place during the Spanish Civil War in 1944. A twelve year old girl, Ofelia, and her mother are en route to move to the countryside where her stepfather is stationed. Captain Vidal is an officer commissioned to search out rebel soldiers who oppose the right wing Franco regime. Vidal takes his commission with the utmost seriousness and his ruthlessness to accomplish his objective is shown in an unexpected scene of quick and graphic violence.
From that moment on, the tension level of the movie is cranked up and never relents. Having seen Captain Vidal’s dark side, one is left not knowing when and where he will strike out again. This moment is important on so many levels because it takes the opening moments of the film, which has tones of the Henson movie Labyrinth and dispels any notions that the fantasy world presented is going to protect or save the young protagonist of the movie, Ofelia, from the horrors of the real world she lives in. This is solidified when we enter the Labyrinth where the motivations of the denizens of that world are ambiguous.
Del Toro has created and executed a masterpiece of a film. On every level you can think of there is not one wasted or frivolous moment. Every scene, every character action, every piece of dialogue, they all serve the story and yet allow for different interpretations by viewers. This openness in the weave or texture of the story is the true sign of the brilliance of this story. Is the world of Pan’s Labyrinth real or the imagination of a twelve year old girl? Del Toro never tips his hand and leaves it up to the viewer to decide. The beauty of it is that the story is constructed in such a manner that allows both interpretations to exist.
From a technical point of view, this is a breath taking movie. From the beautiful wooded hills of the Spanish countryside to the sections of the film dealing with Pan’s Labryinth, each are photographed with grace and visually appealing flair. Mention also must go to the sound design of the movie. It surrounds the viewer with such clarity and dramatic impact that really adds to the sense of immersion.
Ultimately, the film rests on the shoulders of a very young girl, Spanish actress Ivana Baquero. She responds to the challenge magnificently. Through her performance as the book and fairy tale magic loving Ofelia, I felt and empathized with her joy at the possible beauty of the world around, the fear of the pain that it can inflict, and the love she has for her mother and yet unborn brother. Her performance carries the emotional heart of the story and she totally captivated me.
This is a film that surpasses my ability, meager as that may be, to adequately express the impact and feelings that I have carried away from my viewing. Its two days later and I am still haunted by the beauty and horror and drama and pain and hope and wonder of this movie. This is a movie that I will revisit again and again. If that is not the definition of a classic, I will never come closer to articulating what the word means.
10 out of 10