The movie is set in Spain after the civil war in 1944. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), travel to a town in the Pyrenees where Ofelia’s stepfather, Vidal, who is a cruel and sadistic captain in dictator Franco’s army; eliminates the last rebels in the mountainous area.
Near the town, Ofelia discovers the ruins of an old labyrinth where she meets a faun (Doug Jones), a strange human-shaped mythical creature with goat feet and horns. The faun tells Ofelia that she is Moanna, the underground kingdom’s princess. Ofelia has to pass three tests before the full moon to return to her kingdom.
Long ago, the princess of the underground kingdom, Moana, escaped and entered the world of humans. But she couldn’t adapt to this new world and she died. Her father opened the portals so she could come back when she reincarnates, and the reincarnation is none other than Ophelia, a ten-year-old girl who loves fairy tales. When Ophelia and her mother arrive in the countryside where her cruel stepfather is located, Ophelia meets Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the captain’s maid. They quickly become friends. Finding the mysterious labyrinth and encountering the faun, Ophelia learns about her true identity and receives a magic book that will guide her through the three tests she has to pass to get back to the underground kingdom. Simultaneously, Captain Vidal, her cruel stepfather, hunts down the remaining rebels hiding in the mountains while Mercedes helps the resistance; providing them with food and medicine that she steals from the cellar.
The simple story of the film is a mixture of fantasy and reality. It is the adaptation of magical realism (primarily associated with Gabriel Garcia Marquez) from the literature to cinema screens. The fantastical elements like the tests, the faun, the labyrinth, the underground kingdom belong to the magical world; in contrast, the war, the struggles of the civil war belong to reality. Ofelia is the bridge between the two stories. It is the story of the suffering of a country seen through the eyes of a girl who holds on in an irrational way to her innocence while the world around her is wrapped in violence and blood. The events that occur in the labyrinth and real-life constantly complement each other. The fantastic script creates harmony with the two plots perfectly, reaching a beautiful union.
The main element of Pan’s Labyrinth is, undoubtedly, the universe created by director Guillermo Del Toro: Mythical creatures, fauns, toads, fairies, otherworldly atmosphere…. The design and make-up are truly remarkable. With an impressive work from the production team, the atmosphere of the time is accurately recreated, while the design of the magical realm is fantastic.
Characters and acting
The performances from the actors are also majestic. Ivana Baquero, as Ofelia, puts on a great performance, developing a great character who guides us through fantastic realms. Maribel Verdu is particularly good in the maid Mercedes role, and Sergi Lopez acts as a brilliant villain. His portrayal of Captain Vidal, a sadistic, bloodthirsty military captain, is remarkable. In certain moments when he shows his most brutal side, he is so convincing that you can’t help but fear him. Also, we have to mention Doug Jones as the Faun; similar to the character of Gollum in Lord of the Rings; he gives a great performance as an otherworldly creature.
Music and cinematography
The soundtrack composer, Javier Navarrete, does an excellent job, creating a simple, sad lullaby that describes the atmosphere and the movie’s feelings exceptionally. The music is heavily linked to the character Ofelia, expressing her innocence and melancholy at the same time. The soundtrack of the fantastic realm is also impressive, with ominous male choirs creating a serious, dark atmosphere.
The director Guillermo Del Toro is, like Tim Burton, a master of creating grotesque atmospheres. That visual identity can be seen in every aspect of the movie: the design of fantastic creatures, sinister and beautiful at the same time; in his wicked and charismatic villains, in its wonderful transitions between sequences, in its confused but determined protagonists… It is the sublime photography and intelligent use of colors that give the atmosphere power.
Three colors are dominant in the movie; blue as the color of reality, gloomy and hopeless life; red as the color of the energetic and impossible fantasy of Ofelia, and green as the color of the bridge between two worlds where the border between reality and fiction becomes blurred, and the two realities collide.
With 3 Oscar awards, Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece with a great story, an amazing setting, remarkable designs of its creatures, fantastic music compositions, and the successful presentation of its characters. Everything is perfectly thought out to offer a plot where reality and fantasy are intermingled in a harmonious way to tell a complex plot through a little girl’s eyes. As a beautiful but realistic fable, the movie is highly recommended for everyone who likes imaginary worlds and fantastic stories. But a warning: be cautious of the bloody scenes if you get easily disturbed by them!