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Pan's Labyrinth has just been released with the biggest buzz of any film this year except with the possible exception of Dreamgirls. It seems to be on everyone's top ten list for 2006, and it has six Oscar nominations including Best Foreign Language Film. Pan's Labyrinth is a very good film, but it is also a very disturbing film. I need to mention right off the top, that even though this film has a fairy-tale title and has a little girl as its main character, this is not a movie for kids. Pan's labyrinth is rated 'R' and it deserves to be. There is a large amount of very graphic violence in both the real and fantasy worlds portrayed in this film. I'm not always a big fan of the ratings system, but in this case, I wouldn't want anyone much younger than 17 to see Pan's Labyrinth.
Pan's Labyrinth is the story of a young girl (Ivana Baquero) living in Spain in 1944. The Spanish Civil War is over and Franco is in charge. Some remnants of the Loyalist forces still are hiding out in the forests of northern Spain. The young girl, Ofelia, accompanies her pregnant ailing mother (Ariadna Gil) as she joins her new husband (Sergi López) who is a captain of the Nationalist Army trying to root out the rebels. Ofelia's real father is dead and she doesn't like her new father at all. It turns out that she is a good judge of character as the Captain is a sociopath. She and her mother are cared for by a housekeeper (Maribel Verdú) and the local doctor (Álex Angulo). They are both secretly working for the rebels. Ofelia is very unhappy and reads fairy stories as an escape from real life. Soon, she is living or dreaming a fairy story herself. She finds an old ruined labyrinth near her house, and soon meets 'real' fairies and Pan (Doug Jones), himself. See the picture above right. Pan tells Ofelia that she is a princess and that if she accomplishes three magical tasks, she will be reunited with her father the king in a great palace underground
The cast, led by Ivana Baquero as Ofelia is excellent. Baquero is only 12 years old but is quite amazing. Gil as her mother and López as her step-father struggle to get past the one-dimensionality of their characters. But Maribel Verdú who shone as the beautiful but doomed woman in Y Tu Mamá También, is also very good here as is Angulo as the doctor. Behind all the Pan makeup is Doug Jones, who was just as unrecognizable as Abe Sapien in Hellboy.
Pan's Labyrinth is the latest film from the very eclectic director, Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy). The one common thread in all of these diverse movies is that much of the action takes place underground in subways, sewers and in Pan's Labyrinth, literally underground. Del Toro really knows how to make a film visually interesting and this one is no different. Among the Oscar nominations for Pan's Labyrinth, are Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup. But this film is not beautiful, it is ugly. Really, it almost a horror film. It portrays how the traumatizing events in Ofelia's real world follow into her dream world which becomes a nightmare. It is a measure of del Toro's success at creating this nightmare within a nightmare for Ofelia that Pan's Labyrinth is almost too disturbing to watch and enjoy, if that is the right word.