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Pan's Labyrinth

Review Written by: William Grady
Film: A+
What the MPAA Rating should be: R (for violence and scary images)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Produced by: Guillermo del Toro, Alvaro Augustin, Alfonso Cuaron, Bertha Navarro and Frida Terresblanco
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Alex Angulo
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures

The film begins with sound. Sounds, sounds, overwhelming sounds that pull the ears to a breathtakingly beautiful forest in 1930's Spain. To a facist encampment in an old mill. To a simple, rotting labyrinth filled with mysterious joy of childhood magic. The clitters and tic-ticcles of a noisy bug watching the passing cars. The ticking of a watch set to time the arrival of a captain's pregnant wife. The creaking of the floorboards of the old, warm house. The rustle of pages of the book our heroine reads to pass the time in the country. Was that the wings of a fairy?

Del Toro's masterfully simple, lush and beautiful bastard child of Hayao Miyazaki and Jean Cocteau comes ever so tantallasingly close to letting us see something unbelievable. It teases us until we're begging and it gives. Never has the depths and indeed the limits of a child's imagination been so perfectly portrayed, with the delicacy and respect of a film about 9/11. It is acted with remarkable sublety so the viewer is never forced to think "this is a good performance!" The imagination is never pushed too far over the top, just enough to satisfy our senses and our longing for the forgotten childhood.

Ofelia (Ivana Banquero) is moving from the city with her mother to a Nazi outpost in the wilderness of Spain. At some time her mother had been widowed and then married Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who insists on having her driven to the old mill even when her child is almost due. Vidal is a sadistic monster, the very kind of bad guy a proper fairy tale needs. When confronted with his new bride's sickness, he tells the doctor bluntly - "If you have to choose, save the boy." Ofelia regards the whole situation with a sort of mixed horror. One night a bug turns into a fairy and leads her outside into the old labyrinth, where dwells a faun (Doug Jones). The faun gives her a book and many gruelling tasks to do before the moon is full to fufill a prophecy of a returning princess - he appears to be a very deliberate metaphor for facism. In the meanwhile, geurillas in the hills are advancing further upon the camp and the Captain grows nastier and nastier.

Ivana Banquero is excellent and today's child performers should attempt to model themselves on her. She never for a second let me stop thinking she was, indeed, Ofelia. The same goes for Sergi Lopez and also Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as an encouraging earth mother. Del Toro does a remarkable job fashioning a story that on the surface looks to be for children, but in reality is intended solely for adults. The film wouldn't be worth it if we weren't getting that return. Should I also mention the film's gruesome violence, which will scare away probably 32% of most children.

Innocence is joy and Pan's Labyrinth embodies innocence. You know where I'm going. Don't miss it.

Ivana and the faun in the magical Pan's Labyrinth.
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