REVIEW: Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno

The fantasy genre in books and films appeal less to me than the more conventional ones. Pepper in a bit of fairies, and trolls, I’m fine with that, but if one generously fills in an entire worldview ala Tolkien, I’d usually say, sure, I’ll try it, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll be your expected fanboy.

Having just seen Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, currently screening in Manila theaters, however, provides me a different, but agreeable, perspective: screw the convenience of genre labelling. Frankly, an impressive film like this doesn’t deserve to be piled along with sequel upon sequel of folklore-sized drivel.

The plot of the film revolves around the young Ofelia, who goes with her pregnant mother to the Spanish countryside where the brutal Captain Vidal, her mother’s new husband, and father of her unborn sibling, resides. Near the old house lies an ancient labyrinth, where a fairy leads Ofelia to meet the faun, who assigns her tasks to undertake, to prove that she is actually beyond mortal, being the long lost princess of the underworld kingdom.

What’s initially striking is the impeccable imagery delivered at every night scene, and at every creature hovering (fairies), and creepily walking (the faun, the nightmarish Pale Man), largely unsanitized, un-Disneyfied versions of what is familiar to most audiences. The film then delivers a fair balance of a cold, heartless, and ultra-violent side of war -where the military actively pursues the revolutionaries at the mountains, and persecutes those who are not equal their social strata- and Ofelia’s indistinct view of her reality and fantasy.

Laid out open, the film provides wonderful acting from everyone, most notably with the very effective Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), and Y Tu Mama Tambien’s Maribel Verdú (as Mercedes, housekeeper and rebel informant). Moreoever, Del Toro, as clicheic as it sounds, proves to be a force for Hollywood to reckon with, since someone with this much imagination and creativity is something they can’t easily deal with. I have yet to sink my teeth into his previous works (Blade II, Hellboy), but just based on Labyrinth, I’m putting in a peg for another current South American director to actively watch out for (the other being Fernando Meirelles, of The Constant Gardener and Cidade de Deus; Not Cuaron? Not Innaritu? I file them under promising, sorry).

Pan’s Labyrinth is easily beyond the tag of adult fairytale, since it is essentially a neatly plotted, fictional/conventional documentation of the atrocities of war and its unfortunate victims, whose heroine just happens to also frolic in an otherworld, not exactly happier, and not exactly more hopeful, than the supposedly real one.

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