A Tale in Layers

Pan’s Labyrinth. Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi
López, and Maribel Verdú star in a film written and directed by
Guillermo del Toro.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

At least two stories run on parallel tracks in Guillermo del
Toro’s fascinating achievement of a film. One takes place in the
very harsh and cold warring world of the Spanish military. On a
very different plane is the experience of a brave young girl (Ivana
Baquero, a small wonder) who ventures into trees, mazes, and
underground portals to find a fantasy, fairytale world of
creatures, ghouls, kindly dragonflies, and treasures in the
muck.

Del Toro’s bold, original screenplay sets us down in Spain
during the fractious early years of Franco’s iron rule and at the
tail end of WWII, circa 1944. It weaves a dual-level story, above
and below conscious, consensus reality. Young Ofelia joins her
pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) at the rural Spanish military
settlement led by a particularly cool and sadistic Captain (Sergi
López, the best villain since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List)
whose son the woman is carrying. Maribel Verdú is a saving grace as
Mercedes, attendant to the Captain and aide to the rebel camp.

This is a film in which the coordination of its sensory elements
come together with a special chemistry between seamless special
effects, cinematography (Guillermo Navarro, who also worked on del
Toro’s Cronos and Jackie Brown), and music (Javier Naverrett),
refreshingly devoid of Hollywood clichés.

It has been a whirlwind year for commanding films created by
Mexican directors — Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, Alfonso
Cuarón’s Children of Men, and del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Each of
the films heeds its own language, but they share a filmic dynamism,
a taste for experimentalism, and an interest in finding new routes
to emotionalism through the medium. But it is del Toro’s film that
fits most readily into a style we can recognize with its Latin
American/Spanish diaspora roots, strongly flavored with the feel
and function of magical realism. A gripping fantasy-cum-bitter pill
of historical reality, Pan’s Labyrinth works on every level it so
skillfully crafts, including that of the human heart.

Login

Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.