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A grim fairytale indeed

To the casual observer, originality in films seems to have faded long ago.

The Hollywood landscape has primarily been dominated by sequels and assorted retreads in recent years, causing some filmgoers to become disillusioned with the current state of cinema.

However, despite the seeming dearth of innovation, some filmmakers dare to step outside the cliché-ridden zone of mainstream success and craft a film that reaffirms the artistic potential of films to move and astonish audiences. Guillermo del Toro falls within this elite group of filmmakers, and Pan’s Labyrinth, his latest creation, may be his most striking work yet.

Written and directed by del Toro, this film is about a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who is forced by her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to move to the Spanish countryside with Captain Vidal (Sergi López), Ofelia’s new stepfather, in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. As Captain Vidal contends with the guerrilla soldiers seen lurking nearby, Ofelia refuses to acknowledge Captain Vidal as her new father and periodically escapes into a mysterious fantasy world, guided by a creature named Pan (Doug Jones).

In bringing this tale to life, del Toro once again employs his signature visual style, crafting images that are equally stunning and terrifying. Best known to American audiences for comic book adaptations such as Blade 2 and Hellboy, del Toro actually began his career with Mexican films, such as 1993’s Cronos and 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth continues his unique brand of Spanish-language horror and fantasy.

While del Toro’s masterful directing and inventive script anchor the film, his cast offers poignant and memorable performances that truly engage viewers in Ofelia’s plight. The 12-year-old Baquero brings an innocence and strength to the role of Ofelia, and as her antagonist, López creates a fully realized portrayal of the sadistic Captain Vidal, obsessed with scrubbing out any remaining dissidents, who might challenge his troops. Yet, despite all the impressive performances in the film, Jones makes perhaps the greatest impression with his nuanced portrayal of the goat-like Pan.

Jones, who also played the amphibious Abe Sapien in Hellboy and is set to bring the Silver Surfer to life in this summer’s sequel to Fantastic Four, manages to transcend even the most extensive make-up to imbue Pan with a true personality. In addition, Jones plays the smaller role of the flesh-eating Pale Man whom Ofelia confronts on one of her numerous quests. A trained mime, Jones has become a master at adopting a character’s physical prowess, and his dual roles in Pan’s Labyrinth are among his finest performances.

At its core, Pan’s Labyrinth addresses the role that fantasy plays in times of great struggle. Ofelia’s desperation to flee the harsh reality she faces is certainly relatable to viewers who have longed for a grand adventure to whisk them away from their troubles. The film, which features a breathtaking score by composer Javier Navarrete, effectively contrasts the dichotomy between war-torn Spain and the surreal world of the eponymous labyrinth, emphasizing the power an innocent mind can have in a world where cruelty runs rampant. Since opening last fall, Pan’s Labyrinth has received unanimous praise from critics worldwide, and the film has been steadily expanding to more cities every week. Although it only recently arrived in the Bay Area, those interested in catching this brilliant film should rush to see it since it is likely to vanish from cinemas. Theaters are constantly looking to maximize profits, and in the process, smaller films are often disregarded quickly. While this attitude certainly serves the theater’s monetary goals, it unfortunately results in a narrow theatrical window for superior material in favor of the next box office smash.

Though Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale at heart, the film features graphic violence and is not intended for young audiences. However, for adult viewers, the film is certain to capture the imagination and reignite the faith that, when it comes to quality cinema, all hope is not lost.