Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Criterion Collection Spine #838
(Foreign language film)
Writer and Director Guillermo del Toro's tale of the harsh reality of fascist controlled Spain against the gothic world of a child's fairy tale.
For some reason I did not see what was so special about this film when I saw it at the theater back in college, but with the Summer Barnes and Noble sale in full swing, I thought this would be a great opportunity to pick it up, and watch it with my oldest son for his first foreign language film. He reads really well for his age, be he is still learning so I read all the film's subtitles out loud to him. This was a unique experience since it made it feel like I was reading a movie story book, and caused me to not mind pausing it frequently to allow him to ask questions. I acknowledge there are some intense violent and frightening moments in the movie, but I have worked him up to watching this level of scary movie and he digs.
While I enjoyed Pan's Labyrith a lot more on a re-watch, It is still not a film that really blows me away. Possibly because I wish there was more emphasis on the fantasy moments, but the way it is all woven together is exceptionally good.
Guillermo is a master of brining his strange creatures to life, and they all hold up so well especially the uniquely dark fairies, the mysterious faun, and the really creepy pale man. The production design on all the fantasy elements are on point, including the forest and labyrinth. It is so interesting how he creates this dark feel for the film despite the colors being so rich and vibrant.
The story is about a little girl named Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen, who travel to the country side to be with Carmen's new husband who is the ruthless army Captain Vidal. The Captain and his men are working to kill the remaining forces of the opposition following the Spanish Civil War.
The great ambiguity of the film is deciding if the creatures Ofelia meets are real, or if this is just a fantasy she has come up with in her head in order to deal with her mother being sick and her cruel step-father. In the fantasy the fairies take her to the labyrinth where a faun lives, who tells her that she must complete three tasks inorder to prove that she is the missing princess. The best moment of her quest has to be when she uses a piece of chalk to enter the room of the pale man, a creature that uses eyeballs in his hands to go after Ofelia when she breaks the rules. I love all use of the blood red color that fills the scene, including all the foods set on the long table.
The film is rich with symbolism and references to other fairy tales. In the You Tube review of the film on Renegade Cut, it is mentioned that Guillermo meant for the pale man to represent the blind eye of the church during the time of this harsh dictatorship in Spain. A reference that really stood out to me was the sparkly red shows that appear on her feet like 'The Wizard of Oz' or 'The Red Shoes'. Both films I really need to watch one of these days.
Despite him being so evil, I think the Captain is one of my favorite parts of the film, and I loved the look of the small circled sun glasses that he wears in one of the scenes outside. But by far the most bad ass moment is when the maid Mercedes who is helping the opposition, sticks a knife in his mouth and slices his check open like the joker from 'The Dark Knight'. Guillermo really embellishes this element by showing the Captain then stich the wound up himself, and then we see the liquor he drinks to numb the pain seep thru it. And I suppose I have to mention this is the same guy who bashes in a peasant's face, tortures a stutter by ripping off his finger, and shooting countless others to death.
The part of the fantasy that makes it possibly real is when Ofelia uses this strange living ginger root baby, and puts it under her mother's bed and it actually starts to make her well, until the Captain finds it which causes her mother to tell her to forget her fantasies as she throws it in the fire. Ivana Baquero who plays Ofelia, did an amazing job fitting into the film's fantasy elements, and made them feel so real.
The main theme of the film centers around the resistance to authority with how the Captain is betrayed by those in his house that support the opposition. Even Ofelia goes against the order of the faun, which ultimately allows her to prove herself by not sacrificing her young step brother. Pan's Labyrinth is beautifully book ended with her dying after being shot by the Captain, and her blood being the sacrifice that is needed to fulfill the final task for her to regain her status as princess in the fantasy. Finally the melody that is hummed against these dark moments provide the perfect haunting yet beautiful touch.
Pan's Labyrinth is an excellent film from Director Guillermo del Toro on every level, and while I admire his style I have yet to see a film of his that I really blew me away. Since I did enjoy this more on a re watch, I am now more eager to check out his films 'Cronos' and 'Devil's Backbone'.
“I'll be back.”
- The Terminator
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!