Pan’s Labyrinth

I went to see the film a few weeks ago, and felt it would constitute a good subject for a journal review. I was drawn to it, with the preconception in my mind that it would be solely animated, and that it would probably be inhibited by being a modern fairy tale, which I generally have distaste for. Now, its safe to say that my preconceptions were wrong, but also completely unfounded. Firstly I got the facts wrong, the film is not animated. It does include sections with digital animation being combined with film, but largely it is (or, at least, appears to be) a live-action movie.

Ofelia; as played by Ivana Baquero, in trouble after going on a critical mission inside the trunk of a dead tree. She has wrecked her new clothes, bought by her wicked step-father and will be in trouble.

The central character is Ofelia, a young girl who’s mother has married a man (not her father) who is a captain in Franco’s army after they have taken Spain in 1944. This situation eventually brings the girl and her mother much pain and strife. This is the first parallel to a “standard” fairy tale plot-line. Twenty minutes into the film after the scene has been set, and with fairy tale promise but also an extremely dark and sinister overtone; Ofelia finds a gateway into a mystical world filled with fantastical creatures, stories and monsters. Here perilous evil and potential haven stand side-by-side, if only she can fulfil the tasks set to her by a Fawn, the first creature she meets.

At this point in the movie, the directors obvious intentional showcase of the contrast between the stark reality exhibited by the setting of the film with authentic fairy-tale concepts becomes evident. Simultaneously the contrast (but also seamless blending) of the digital animation and effects, with the live action filming and Ivana Baquero’s natural performance (as Ofelia) works with sublime effect.

The exposition of pure conflict is generally what fantasy is about, but in this film I was taken with quite how well the conflicts were presented. Parallels are obvious between the mystical fantasy world Ofelia has discovered, and the world that her and her mother actually inhabit. In both places Ofelia must confront her fear, drawing on her own bravery and strength.

Ofelia’s mother (bearing the commander’s child) falls gravely ill with pregnancy complications and Ofelia is constantly bullied and resented by her step-father. He is a man obsessed with ruthlessly hunting down and killing all of the resistance fighters who are hiding in the nearby hills; on more than one occasion you are shown quite how brutal he can be with plenty of blood and relatively crudely used gore- for want of a better word. However this doesn’t detract from the film at all, and if anything makes the other sections seem all the more real.

Eventually Ofelia ends up in the Labyrinth and discovers a Fawn. Despite his slightly freaky (but definitely intimidating) appearance, he appears to be her friend. The Fawn tells her she is the lost princess of a secret Kingdom, and that she can return to take her throne and the riches that go with it. She only has to perform the three tasks he sets her, without fail and without questioning him.

Ofelia meets this creature whilst completing one of the tasks set to her by the Fawn. Intensely creative costume and presentation. This particular beast’s voice is deep and harsh, I would commend the voice artist and audio engineer equally. Very scary!

The two parallel worlds, only joined together by Ofelia, form the basis for the rest of the plot to unfold. The plot continually confronts you with unexpected twists but is still easily accessible and simple for the mind to move along with.

I think because of the sensibility and intense emotion being conveyed in the film, it does feel like it takes quite a long time to get you from beginning to end, even though it is only two hours long. Again though, for me this is a big plus rather than anything negative, and adds to the over all effect.

To sum it up I think its an excellent piece of cinema and is certainly a film that could be watched several times without decaying its affecting qualities. Unsurprisingly this comes from all the pieces of the jigsaw coming together perfectly; excellent live action cinematography which is uncomplicated but exquisitely presented. Digital animation to the quality that most people have come to expect thanks to the explosion of that particular medium. Ivana Baquero’s Ofelia leaves a bitter-sweet taste in your mouth, but all of the key roles are delivered with tactility and finesse– something I often find abundant in European cinema and lacking in Hollywood pictures. Topped off with an original concept and plot line the whole thing comes together faultlessly.

Ofelia talking to the Fawn, who is her guide. This shot stirs memories of the Alien films.

Being in the position I am – experimenting with film and animation (amongst my other exploits) – watching a successful picture of this ilk I am both inspired and awestruck. It somehow seems impossible to imagine being in a position to create such a work, but there’s only one way to find out, and that is to try. Hence I came away from the film totally satisfied with my cinema going experience and with a drive to create a narrative based film with a similarly intense reality come fantasy texture.