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Pan's Labyrinth (2 Disc Set) [2006] - £11.48

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Jorge Luis Borges, and Guillermo del Toro's own unlimited imagination, Pan's Labyrinth is a fairytale for adults. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) may only be 12, but the worlds she inhabits, both above and below ground, are dark as anything del Toro has conjured. Set in rural Spain, circa 1944, Ofelia and her widowed mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil, Belle Epoque), have just moved into an abandoned mill with Carmen's new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López, With a Friend like Harry). Carmen is pregnant with his son. Other than her sickly mother and kindly housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú, Y Tu Mamá También), the dreamy Ofelia is on her own. Vidal, an exceedingly cruel man, couldn't be bothered. He has informers to torture. Ofelia soon finds that an entire universe exists below the mill. Her guide is the persuasive Faun (Doug Jones, Mimic). As her mother grows weaker, Ofelia spends more and more time in the satyr's labyrinth. He offers to help her out of her predicament if she'll complete three treacherous tasks. Ofelia is willing to try, but does this alternate reality really exist or is it all in her head? Del Toro leaves that up to the viewer to decide in a beautiful, yet brutal twin to The Devil's Backbone, which was also haunted by the ghost of Franco. Though it lacks the humour of Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth represents Guillermo Del Toro at the top of his considerable game. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Customer reviews (av rating: 4.5):

Rating: 5:
Not What It Seems : I came to this movie by accident, Guillermo Del Torro was a name I'd heard in connection with the Oscar Nominated Music & Special Effects so, mistakenly, thinking this was a kids fantasy adventure I took the plunge and tried it out. Boy was I in for a surprise. The movie starts out as a fairy tale. But you are soon brought crashing to ground during the Spanish Civil War, or to be accurate, just after it. A young girl going with her mother to live with her new stepfather is lost in a world of fairies and magic she takes from her books. The harsh realities of the still bitter dispute never seem to shadow her life. But the stories come to life in the shape of the labyrinth and a strange faun, the Pan of the title.
As the story of the girl and her quest to return to her magical Kingdom get darker and more unsettling so events in the "real" world grow darker and more terrifying. The story moves to its climax growing darker and more unsettling as the denouement approaches. The final twist and turn is not unexpected, but still fairly shocking.
What really sets this movie apart is the use of childrens fantasy and a strangely unsettling undercurrent of horror to tell us something we did not know. For most of us the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939 and Spain got on with life, this shows it not to be so. The central premise, as in any civil war is that just because the press and cameras have moved on does not mean that the fighting killing and dying have ended.
Perhaps the analogy between the stepfather, little girl and infant are a little unsubtle but to set this movie in the time, and bring it off, must have been equally disturbing for the cast and crew.
Sterling work all round from the aforementioned music and SFX, but also the actors, camera men, and everyone involved with this movie deserves a great round of applause. A brilliant movie which works on every level. Watch it as a fantasy, a history lesson, an allegory, a lesson on virtue, however you chose it delivers.

Rating: 5:
A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human worl : Pan's Labyrinth is a wonderful allegorical tale filled with monsters of all kinds.

A young girl, Ofelia, travels with her pregnant mother to meet her Stepfather. Her Stepfather is a General in Franco's army and Ofelia soon learns that he is a violent and uncaring man. To escape the horror of her life, she steps into another world in which she is a Princess and monsters can be defeated.

There has been a lot of hype about Pan's Labyrinth (it was nominated for six Oscars and won three - practically unheard of for a foreign language film). Usually, when a film is getting this much good press, it's a letdown when you finally get round to watching it. This is not the case with Pan's Labyrinth. It is a bewitching tale that will keep you enthralled throughout.

Pan's Labyrinth is not a fantasy adventure filled with bright colours and cute and cuddly mythical creatures (it is more Jim Henson than Disney). The world of Pan's Labyrinth is dark and cruel, and at times the violence is relentless and startling. Despite this, it is a film filled with beauty, the kind of beauty that can only be seen in gothic art or on a stormy winter's night.

Whether you believe that Ofelia has created a world from her imagination or whether the visions she experiences are reality, you will be fascinated by her world and all that she encounters.

Rating: 5:
"Do you believe in fairies?" : Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to watch a film that shows what can be done when artistry is used in the way it is intended to be used. In this uncompromising movie, Guillermo del Toro goes all out to deliver a fairy tale that grabs the viewer's emotions and takes them on a rollercoaster ride. The R rating already indicates that this is not your typical fairy tale, but instead it is more in line with the more classic fairy tales of the past, like the uncensored tales by the Brothers Grimm.

Our main character, Ofelia, is a girl in her early teens who loves to read fairy tales and has a most vivid imagination. At the beginning of the story, she is traveling with her pregnant mother, Carmen, to meet with Captain Vidal in an encampment in the Spanish countryside. The Civil War has ended, but there are still guerrillas fighting for the Republic, and Vidal's task is to help annihilate them. He has forced Carmen to come join him because he is the father of the unborn child and wants the birth to occur in his presence; he completely disregards the dangers of the journey for Carmen in such a late stage of her pregnancy. This is just a glimpse into the Captain's personality, which will be revealed as the movie progresses.

Ofelia lost her father in the Civil War, and now uses her fantasy world to endure the situation in which she is in, a mother debilitated by the pregnancy, and a stepfather that is an ogre. She creates an imaginary world based on a book she read and on a stone labyrinth by the military camp. In her fantasy, she meets a faun, who gives her three tasks to carry before the full moon. By completing these, she will become a princess. During these tasks, Ofelia faces monsters that she does not dare face in the real world, and we are exposed to a plot full of cleverly created metaphors.

As the fantasy progresses, the clear line between good and bad in the real versus the fantasy world, starts to blur. The story gets darker and there is a fair amount of violence involved. I do not think that the use of this violence is excessive though, since it helps communicate the full extent of the evil behind some of the characters.

Besides the great story and masterful direction, this film presents us with enchanting music and neat make-up and wardrobe displays. On top of that, the actors perform their roles convincingly, especially in the cases of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Baquero's performance is on par with some other great performances by kids in the past, such as Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. Lopez is so good in his role that you feel like grabbing him out of the screen and beating him senseless. I highly recommend this movie, it is a masterpiece!

Rating: 5:
Dark wonderful fairytale : I loved the film from the narrating presentation in the beginning, the deep male voice presenting the fairytale beginning in gorgeus Spanish was just the beginning of a thrilling - rather twisted fairytale. If you have read - and liked - The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, I don't think you will be any bit dissapointet seeing this!

Rating: 5:
'18' rating - an extremely dark Alice in Wonderland : I realise I'm the 119th reviewer... I think this is a brutal film, very Spanish, superbly well-acted. I saw the premiere in Cannes in 2006 and met the young actress who played Ophelia afterwards. We gave it a 20 minute standing ovation. That gives you an idea of film festival tastes. The question is, is this one for you?

I would not let anyone under 15 watch this film. Think 'violence' and then double it. And then add 'graphic and all too real' and you see my point, hopefully.

The second disc about the making of the film is fascinating: Guillermo Del Toro (the director) belongs to the 'slightly weird' school of directors. He spent months, years, making notes in his sketchbook, drawing the faun and fantasising about his fantasy.

I do not think the effect of this film is lessened by it being in Spanish. If anything, it adds to the overall darkness.

If you haven't seen it, and you know something about the Spanish Civil War, and you don't mind a bit of fantasy mixed in with brutal violent realism, then you will really enjoy it. You may even, as we were in Cannes, be moved to tears...

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