Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s love of adding a touch of fantasy to reality is well documented. Cronos, Blade II and Mimic have all transported the viewer to a world not too far away from their own, where mysterious creatures with strange powers roam subways, hunt vampires and kill Ron Perlman. They’ve not been bad to watch either.
It was at least a small surprise when he passed on the opportunity to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third outing for the pubescent bespectacled mage, passing over the opportunity to his long time and equally talented friend Alfonso Cuarn. Del Toro preferred to work on the far less commercially successful Hellboy: Potter could have made him a global name – but for del Toro its not just fantasy, but a certain type of fantasy that appeals. One has to assume that Harry Potter simply wasn’t dark enough.
No such worries with Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in 1944 Spain, the film is full of the menace of Francos Fascism, which has almost consolidated its grip on the country. 12 year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother Carmen are travelling to a remote mountain village in Northern Spain to meet Carmens new husband, the brutal Captain Vidal (Sergi Lpez). Newly arrived at the village himself, he is there to root out some of the last traces of the anti-fascist guerrillas and stamp the authority of the new government on the wayward province.
Ofelia is in a world she doesn’t understand, and deals with it through the discovery of Pan, a mysterious Faun who tells her a story of an enchanted kingdom which she was once princess of. To reclaim her place on the throne she must prove herself by completing three tasks. While Vidal becomes locked in an increasingly bitter battle with the rebels and her mother is stricken with a difficult pregnancy, only Pan can help her escape the evils of her present world…
Del Toro has created a magical movie here, and the term adult fairytale is well deserved. He marries his twin storylines – Vidal’s struggle with the rebels and Ofelias encounter with Pan – well, building a feeling of tension and menace through both of them. Its not a subtle study, and were left in no doubt who the heroes and villains are – del Toro’s fascists being far more gruesome than any of the monsters Ofelia encounters
Baquero delivers a great performance, one of the best from a child actress since Natalie Portman in Leon, while Lpez makes a commanding fascist, a truly bleak villain. Effective support is delivered from Maribel Verd (of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) as Vidal’s rebellious housekeeper and lex Angulo as the quietly noble doctor.
Certainly one of del Toro’s most enjoyable pieces, and a brilliant antidote to the swathes of more schmaltzy fairytales this season usually produces. Highly recommended.