Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro’s latest and is a refreshingly a dark, original, very grown-up fairytale, which pushes the limitations of a fifteen certificate and received twenty-two minutes of applause after its Cannes Film Festival screening in May. Twenty-two. That’s like an episode of Friends. This was one to get excited about.
The Mexican film is set in the fascist Spain of 1944, after Franco´s victory. After being sent, along with her pregnant mother, to live with her new stepfather, eleven year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) becomes caught up in this intriguing fantasy world, as if it is a distraction from the fascist repression of rural Spain which she is actually caught up in.
The violence and darkness becomes more sinister, due to the protagonist being a young girl. The premise of a fairytale with a child lead was certainly misleading for many Mexicans; after the first week, because so many parents brought small children to the film, cinemas placed signs on the posters warning about graphic violence. The villain of the piece is Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez; Dirty Pretty Things), Ofelia’s new stepdad and the father of the child her mother is pregnant with. And what a villain; honestly, what a bastard. In many films, the baddie can be quite likable, but, geez, he is just so bloody mean. There is one scene where he gets horribly violent with the butt of his pistol, in an Irreversible kind of way. Disgusting, terrifying, brilliant. A career defining performance for Lopez, for sure.
The fairytale world is magnificently imagined and it entwines with the ‘real’ world without question. There are some great set pieces, including the scene with the frightening Pale Man (played by the only American on set, Doug Jones, who took five hours to get into the costume and had to look out of the nose holes to see where he was going) which even made Stephen King squirm in his seat when he watched it beside Del Toro.
Del Toro repeatedly turned Hollywood producers down, in spite of being offered double the budget provided the film was made in English. Thankfully, he did not give in, because who knows how else he would have had to compromise. The subtitles will, unfortunately, put many folks off (don’t worry, we will get Capitan Vidal and his pistol on to them). Pan's Labyrinth’s originality and execution is definitely worth a standing ovation (and a bit of reading, god forbid); so much so, you will wonder why the Cannes audience stopped at only twenty-two minutes.