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Movie Review ****: Fauns, Fairies, and Friggin... Tragedies

Pan...s Labyrinth is Amazing, and Amazingly Sad

By Bill Andrews

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, and Sergi Lopez

Rated R

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Two weeks ago, I’d never heard of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Then, while watching TV with my fianc e, I saw this ad for a cool-looking new fantasy movie; it looked like a cross between “Labyrinth” (you know, the one with Muppets) and “Mirrormask.” Plus, it had gotten nothing but amazing reviews from everyone. Best of all, it was rated R, so we wouldn’t have to worry about an overly saccharine plot or crying babies distracting us. From this one ad, shown about 40 times an hour, we decided it was a movie not to miss.

It turns out, however, that the ad left a few things out, like the fact that it’s a foreign film. Now, I love foreign movies, and was delighted to find out this one had subtitles; in fact, the actual name of the movie, “El Laberinto del Fauno,” means “The Faun’s Labyrinth,” handily explaining away our confusion over Pan himself not being a character in “Pan’s labyrinth.” Having thus been deceived by the ad, we were left wondering what else would be different from our expectations.

Well, without being too spoiler-y, let’s just say that we had no idea the movie was so tragic. There’s a lot of pain and sadness and, while it wasn’t necessarily a sad ending, we were still left with a horrible feeling of despair at the movie’s end. Which is too bad, really, because it was a great movie. The film was visually attractive, had great acting, an interesting score, and a wonderful story. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever want to see it again, since it was so incredibly sad.

Having said all that, here’s what it’s actually about. A young girl named Ofelia moves to her stepfather’s military outpost just after the Spanish Civil War, when Franco’s oppression is at its peak and bloody violence between the rebels and the military was common. Almost magically, Ofelia’s world diverges: as her real world starts to fall apart — her pregnant mother falls ill and her stepfather’s brutality intrudes more and more — a fairy-tale world, full of fauns and monsters, springs up before her. In addition, a subplot about a group of rebels parallels Ofelia’s story throughout the movie; for instance, when someone dies on the battlefield, one of Ofelia’s guardian fairies dies too. As both worlds become bleaker and bleaker, it’s up to Ofelia to choose the world she’s to remain in, and make the most of it.

Quite the story, and like I said, it’s pulled off amazingly well. The special effects are really amazing, not just for the flat-out fantasy parts (monsters and fairies and such) but for the real-life violence, too. It’s one of those movies where just choosing a scene at random yields visual delights and could spark an interesting conversation. Somehow, both the world of the oppressed Spanish countryside and the world of magic were completely immersive and, while very different, there was never a shock transitioning form one place to the other.

Equally well done was all the acting, and that’s a rare thing these days. The sadistic Capitan (Ofelia’s stepfather), her sweet and melancholy mother, the gruff faun that guides her through the magical world, and even Ofelia herself (a twelve year old named Ivana Baquero) were each fleshed out, realistic, three-dimensional people. The entire movie felt like I was watching actual people interact, each with their own agendas and motivations, unaware that audiences of people would someday see them. Even the magical parts seemed real, which, of course, only made it that much sadder at times.

So in the end, I too join the avalanche of critics who give this movie rave reviews and accolades. But, unlike the ad, I’ll tell you the rest: much like real life, this movie’s beauty comes at a cost, and while it was an amazing experience, for many it might not be worth it. For those who see suffering as inevitable or essential, this is a movie that will provide not just a fantastic two hours of cinema, but countless more hours of discussion and analysis. For the rest, maybe you should forgo Pan and just go rent “Labyrinth.”