Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro

Last night I had the opportunity to see the latest film by interesting Spanish director Guillermo del Toro, whose previous work include The Devil’s Backbone, which I’ve seen and loved, and Hellboy, which I wanted to see but heard wasn’t the best movie ever (my standards have been high, recently; to be honest, I’ve hardly gone to the cinema much at all this year).

What I found interesting about this movie (I’m not so much into describing what happens — that’s for you to find out when you watch it) was the juxtaposition between fantasy and violence; think The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Saving Private Ryan (another movie I haven’t seen, sigh). This is an odd combination, and one that I would think appealing to a rather limited audience; nonetheless, it works very well for me.

On a less positive note, I did feel that the fairy tale aspects of the story were rather shallow and, worse, underdeveloped. When viewed from the perspective of the central character, however, this flaw can be partially justified. There was certainly no lack of imagination involved when putting together the violent imagery, or time spent showing it on camera; here we see where del Toro’s real forte lies (some of the violence is indeed deliciously gruesome). Greater balance between the two halves, particularly because the fantasy is where the main story lies and the violent reality merely just context for some of the characters, would have improved the impact of the film. In my opinion. If you love violence and aren’t so keen on fairy tales, you won’t have such a problem.

I was going to be critical of the acting of the fantasy character, the faun, in the film, but I read that the actor was American and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. I really wonder at the rationale behind such a decision — if even an Australian watching the movie can be irked by his performance, surely it couldn’t have been that hard in comparison to hire a Spanish-fluent actor? (On the other hand, Ron Perlman makes a fine counter-argument.)

To a more positive note, the characters and acting for the rest of the movie I found particularly good. The main character Ofelia (played by 13 year old Ivana Baquero) is like a Spanish Miette, perfect to a tee. Even the villain of the piece, who is so easy to stereotype in a film like this, comes across with intelligence and flaws to counterpoint his evil.

Finally, it would be omitting one of the highlights of the film not explicitly praise its artistic vision. The reality in the film moves from dream-like beauty to horror, and the fantastical scenes extend from and mirror this. While I believe the interpretation of the fairy tale didn’t fit exactly with the balance given to the fantasy in the film, overall it is a wonderful vision.