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Pan’s Labyrinth (DVD)

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Caffeinated Clint
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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

Upon close inspection, a lot of fairy tales aren’t kids’ stuff – some can be downright gruesome, gruelling and cruel, when you get right down to it. But that’s the point.


Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones

Upon close inspection, a lot of fairy tales aren’t kids’ stuff – some can be downright gruesome, gruelling and cruel, when you get right down to it. But that’s the point.

Such stories weren’t necessarily created to lull children off to sleep but to warn them about the perils that awaited them outside their door.

So when Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro’s new movie “Pan’s Labyrinth” is called a fairy tale, don’t take that to mean that it’s something the young ‘uns can watch unsupervised. It is dark, violent and unsettling at times.

But it’s also something of a masterpiece in terms of its vision and insight, and how it presents a grim reality viewed through the prism of a child’s unfettered imagination.

The child is Ofelia (gifted newcomer Ivana Baquero), who is travelling with her heavily pregnant mother to a military outpost in the Spanish mountains during the country’s civil war in the 1940s.

Ofelia’s stepfather, Vidal (Sergi Lopez), is a cold-hearted army officer with only two desires – he wants to wipe out the rebels in the mountains surrounding his base and he wants Ofelia’s mother to bear him a son. He barely cares about Ofelia’s mother; he certainly has no interest in Ofelia herself.

As the fascist forces and the rebels clash, Ofelia finds herself visited in the night by a talking faun who claims that she is actually an exiled princess from a magical underground kingdom.

Given a series of tasks she must complete if she is to return to her rightful home, Ofelia’s transition into a world of fantasy may seem like a respite from the carnage and suffering that surrounds her. Her journey, however, soon becomes just as dangerous as anything she faces in the real world.

Del Toro’s wonderful ghost story “The Devil’s Backbone” wove together natural and supernatural horrors in a similar way, but “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a much more soulful piece of work, a multi-faceted look at how dreams and desires can be both liberating and corrupting.

Rich with symbolism and dual meanings, the film offers no easy answers or pat explanations. Indeed, it’s the kind of movie that’s open to all manner of interpretation.

But there’s no denying Del Toro’s talents for drawing audiences into a world unlike any other, thanks largely to a vivid visual imagination that works in tandem with a heartfelt humanism.

This extends to every character – even when there’s no sympathy for someone as brutal as Vidal, there’s still an understanding of his motives. (The spellbinding work of Lopez, best known in Europe as a comic actor, also helps in this regard.)

There’s a long and proud tradition of fantasy storytelling that transcends genre boundaries to be recognised as art of the highest order. “Pan’s Labyrinth” has earned its place in it.

The DVD includes a conglomerate of extras – namely featurettes on the making of the movie, but also a really insightful commentary by del Toro – and looks and sounds gorgeous.

Rating :
Reviewer : Guy Davis

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