TIFF Report: Pan's Labyrinth Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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For all the acclaim director Guillermo Del Toro generated with Hellboy the high point of his career to that point was very definitely The Devil's Backbone. Though underseen Backbone is a fantastically evocative ghost story set in an all boys boarding school against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War that offers ample proof that for all of his technical skills Del Toro's greatest gifts are his unbridled imagination and crystal clear recollection of what the world is like to a child: wondrous and full of magic, yes, but also frequently dark and hostile.

With Pan's Labyrinth returns to this same fertile ground, offering up a fairy tale with a young female protagonist set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. And once again Del Toro demonstrates that building a film around a young star does not necessarily mean producing light and fluffy family fare. A fairy tale it may be but Pan's Labyrinth is very much a Grimm tale, not a Disney one, a story where magic runs rampant in a dark and dangerous world filled with violence and hate where magical creatures are known to eat careless children and the humans are no more trustworthy. This is not - I repeat, NOT - a children's film.

The hero of the piece is Ofelia, a young bookish girl moving into remote rural woodlands with her mother to join her step-father - a violent, controlling fascist military officer hunting down the last guerilla fighters that remain to oppose Franco's rule. During a pit stop along the way Ofelia repairs an unusual statue, the statue in turn releasing a large insect that Ofelia believes - correctly, as it turns out - is a fairy. The fairy, for its part eventually leads Ofelia to the heart of an ill kept labyrinth near to her step father's military encampment where she meets the titular Pan, who informs her that she is the reincarnation of a fairy princess and may return to her magical realm only if she can complete three tasks before the full moon arrives.

Most of the promotional materials are drawn from this fantasy world, and understandably so as it is absolutely stunning, but the real meat of the story and bulk of the run time occurs in the human world. Ofelia's step-father is openly hostile to her presence, acknowledging her only because of her mother. Mother, for her part, is in the midst of a difficult pregnancy and largely bed ridden. The housekeeper, Ofelia's only true friend in the house, is involved in the resistance movement against Franco which leads to a great deal of tension. Even beyond his hostility towards the young girl, the military captain is a horrendous, monstrous man who rules with an iron fist, caring only for his own ends, and capable of sudden, dramatic bursts of violence. This is no place for a child.

Pan's Labyrinth revolves around the loss of innocence, Ofelia's journey reflecting the war's toll upon Spain itself, the young girl retreating farther and farther into her magical land to escape both the malevolence of her step-father and illness of her mother, dangerous forces she cannot understand and has no control over. The production values, as you would expect from Del Toro, are positively incredible but it is not the images on screen that will linger, it is the horribly heart wrenching finale to Ofelia's journey, Del Toro proving yet again that he is one of those rare film makers who can mine his fertile imagination to bolster and enhance the truthfulness of his characters without overwhelming them.

The easy road to this material would be to treat Ofelia as a child-hero. A better, and more difficult, path would be to treat it as a coming of age story. Del Toro has chosen a third, higher, and more difficult path: this is not a coming of age but the end of one. It is masterful, heartbreaking and his finest work to date.

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More about Pan's Labyrinth

DarkmanPoeSeptember 10, 2006 7:16 AM

I couldn't agree more that del Toro's best film was (and still is) the absolutely incredible THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. I can't wait to see this. I would like to see him move on to additional original projects such as this (*ahem*MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS*ahem*) rather than go back to HELLBOY territory, though.

Todd BrownSeptember 10, 2006 7:56 AM

I'd love to see him do nothing but these as well - and he's already said that there will be a third Civil War film - but basic reality is that it's things like Hellboy that allow him the freedom to do things like this. And if Hellboy is his commercial film that lets him go do personal stuff, then he aint doing half bad ...

CaterpillarSeptember 10, 2006 1:32 PM

Literally every single review of this film I have read so far has been calling it del Toro's masterpiece. Can't wait. Yeah, I'm kinda disappointed he's doing HELLBOY 2 next but it's not like he had funding for MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS and just didn't wanna do it. That is the one film in the whole world I want to see made the most.

Farrell KurlishSeptember 11, 2006 1:34 AM

Blade 2 was one of his best movies. Just because it was comic to screen doesn't make it any less good. It's actually my favorite fim by the man. Hellboy was my least favorite so don't tell me I only like comicy movies. Is that a word?

scovilleSeptember 11, 2006 10:26 AM

Hellboy wasn't a masterpeice, but it was still a really good, fun movie. I'm excited about Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy 2 AND Mountains of Madness. I'm glad he's been able to work on both the more serious and the fun movies he's made.

peter chrispSeptember 11, 2006 6:24 PM

Couldn't agree with you more "The Devils' Backbone" a classic,
With Pan's Labryinth due the next 3-4 months, originally slated
in late October, is it true we now have to wait until the 29th of
December? After having read glowing reviews and have seen the trailer, will this be one of the best movies he has ever done?
I am literally screaming for it's release.

JeremySeptember 12, 2006 2:00 AM

I was lucky enought to see this movie yesterday at the TIFF and it was outstanding. Certainly one of the most powerful movies that I have ever seen, combining both grim reality that was facist Spain during WWII and fantasy. The standing ovation when the film was complete was well deserved and lasted for minutes.I am looking forward for the release of this movie to DVD and hopefully the mainstream theatres! 5/5

The FrenchmanSeptember 15, 2006 3:59 AM

I don't think it will be as hard as you think market Pan's Labrynth, since Del Toro now has gain worldwide fame for Hellboy. FYI, for anyone in NY. Pan will be showing at this months NY film fest, there are a few tickets still available, so hurry if you want to see it.

PercSeptember 15, 2006 9:11 AM

Freaking yay! I am so happy this film has been reviewed to be as great as it looks to be! I'm also happy there are (plenty of) others out there who think the Devil's Backbone is sublime. I only recently came to discover del Toro's genius, and I confess I've listened to the director's commentary on Backbone on more than one occassion.

GummoSeptember 16, 2006 10:49 PM

I actually thought Devil's Backbone was a slightly better film than this. Don't get me wrong, its a very strong flick, but they are thematically too similar (Del Toro said at the Frightfest this was a "sister movie" to Devil's Backbone).

OpusSeptember 18, 2006 1:14 AM

You know, I knew that. The review's been fixed. Thanks. :)

AuяealSeptember 18, 2006 6:49 AM

You're the crack, as always ;)

buck.theoremSeptember 18, 2006 10:01 PM

You know, I am putting Del Toro on my pile of Directors Who Never Disappoint. I am very excited about seeing this!

speedemonSeptember 25, 2006 1:38 PM

tarsem kicks ass

JimmyJanuary 11, 2007 2:59 AM

I'm not seeing it. This movie could have been so much more. All we see from the fantasy aspect is the Faun, the creature with eyes in its palms, a fairy, and a giant frog. I expected a lot more after reading several reviews. I was very disappointed. It's probably not a great idea to read reviews (as I have found on SEVERAL occasions) because you prepare ourself for someone else's experience. Best to experience it yourself.

CoNTRoLMarch 7, 2007 4:12 PM


synopsis...watch El Capitan bully the good people for 2 hours and receive less than 10 minutes of actual fantasy. did they shoot enough dead people in the head? this movie carries you through the dregs of sentimentality, gives you a headache inbetween the 4-5 scenes of any interest, only to have the movie's unique characters ruined by awful under costume performances. do people realize that films are VISUAL? the frog did nothing interesting...wow a big digital burp...clever...WOW A GIANT YELLOW STRAWBERRY IN A FROG SUIT!! WOW!! where is this amazing imagination Del Toro reportedly posseses? lies or opinions of the dim. Lame baseline macabre. though points to the child eating skin graft...shame on you making us think there were topings on this pizza...just an unrisen crust with patches of extra cheese.

Whether positive or negative El Laberinto Del Fauno could have been 45 minutes or less and people would feel the same about it.

anyway my pizza analogy has me hungry...off for a snack.