PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)

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Director: Guillermo del Toro
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119 min.

Ofelia loves to read books–especially fairy tales.  She brings a whole stack of them when she and her pregnant mother travel to visit her stepfather, a captain of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco.  Ofelia dislikes her stepfather, who she (rightly) believes to be a sadist, and thus she is constantly looking for ways to avoid him.  When she meets a real-life fairy, she eagerly follows the creature into a stone labyrinth.  There, a sinister looking faun tells her that she is really a long-lost princess of the underworld, reborn in a mortal body, but destined to rejoin her father the king after she undertakes three challenging tasks.  However dangerous and grotesque, the faun’s tasks become a welcome distraction as Ofelia’s mother falls ill with pregnancy complications and Ofelia grows increasingly aware of her stepfather’s cruelty and the dangerous predicament of the guerrilla resistors hiding in the forest nearby.

Guillermo del Toro tells this story beautifully, weaving together a dark and traumatic historical fiction plot with an equally grotesque fantasy vision.  It is not surprising in the least that this artistically stunning film took the 2007 Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, and Makeup.  Fair warning: the film is very, very dark, with particularly upsetting violence.  (And if you are not a Spanish-speaker, you will need subtitles.)  But I was completely blown away by the visuals and the storytelling.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dark, artsy films.

 

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