A Review

I was lucky enough to attend the UK premiere of Guillermo del Toro's latest film at the FrightFest in London on August 25th, 2006. Alongside me were other members of the messageboard of Del Toro Films, and this little report, raw though it is, was originally written and posted on the board for those who could not be there with us. It could probably be more polished, more erudite and possibly more interesting if I tweaked it, but when I read it again I realised it said what I felt. So apologies for some of the disjointed comments. This one is from the heart.

Advertising card for PAN'S LABYRINTH from London's FrightFest, 25th August, 2006

Gosh, what can I say. It is now four days later, and I'm still getting my mind around it. Hmmmm. It is not a film for young 'uns. This is a visceral, brutal film in many ways, and unapologetically so. But every moment of violence is essential not only to the plot but to set the timbre of the time, unforgiving and very, very dangerous. But woven into this story of brutality and violence is another world of magic, no less menacing by any means, but it tugs both Ofelia and the viewer into its realm. The two worlds exist side by side, and although we are never sure if this is just imagination on Ofelia's part as a way of dealing with the dreadful world around her (and I'm not just talking about the brutality of Fascism and the ruthlessness of her stepfather and his men) it doesn't matter. I'll let you all make up your minds when you see the film.

But Pan's Labyrinth is far more than that. It is a film of great beauty, with the earthy greens and browns of the gorgeous Spanish countryside (it was filmed near Segovia) and the blues and warm golds of the magical world of the labyrinth. The sets are astounding, and as for the prosthetic design and VFX work ... jeez. You've seen Pan and Pale Man, but wait until you see the toad, and the fairies, and the bugs, and the foetus, and - well, you get my drift.

The cast is superb. Stand-outs are Sergi Lopez (his Captain Vidal is an absolute horror, a man whose only weakness is his pride), and his final scene in the film is one of the best. Maribel Verdu has such quiet strength and immense heart and fire in her role, and she has one scene with Lopez that will make you cringe. Alex Angulo's doctor is a man driven both by his compassion and his belief in the rebels, a man driven to make choices that he will pay very highly for. An honourable man. And little Ivana Baquero ... she is surprisingly self-assured as Ofelia, and although I have previously scoffed at any resemblance to Alice in Wonderland, I now have to take those comments back. See the film, and you'll see what I mean. And last, but by no means least, I just have to mention Doug Jones. His satyr is astounding. Charming, cajoling, menacing, comforting ... so many things. It is a towering performance, and even if you couldn't read the subtitles you would understand what his character was saying as his physical performance was so stunning. And his Pale Man was downright terrifying (and I have the bruises to show for it as Pat [Paone, webmaster of The Perlman Pages] clutched my arm right through the scene). Shudder.

Javier Navarrete's haunting lullaby drifts through the film, and the editing made sure that interest never lapsed - it is perfectly put together. But it is always the magic that pulls one back ... and as the film progressed I watched the audience, and everywhere I saw the same look on upturned faces ... a look of pure wonder. They were enchanted.

As the credits roled, the applause was thunderous, and quite rightly deserved. Oh, and watch out for the crazy credit at the end. You'll know it when you see it. And you will need to see this film a number of times, I can assure you. All of the nuances, allegories, symbols ... they are there to be savoured, like an undiscovered country, and you will grasp a little more at each viewing. For like the characters in the film, you will have many choices presented to you as you watch it - it is indeed a film about choices, and how they affect your life, good or bad ... and sometimes those choices are life-threatening. For some characters, the choice spells their doom, but it is a choice they know they must make, because it is, in the end, the right one.

Helen R. Chavez
Webmaster, The Doug Jones Experience
August 29th, 2006


I spoke to Guillermo a couple of days after the screening, and he asked me what I thought of the film. I told him. My words were hesitant repetitive babble, words like 'beautiful,' 'stunning,' and 'astounding.' He must have thought I was an idiot. I apologised, saying the film was still rattling around in my head, a steady flash of images and music and dialogue. I would have to see the film a few more times to even begin to be able to absorb it properly. I heard the relieved smile in his voice. "Good," he said, "There's a awful lot there to take in!" He also asked me what people were saying as they left the cinema. "Nothing," I replied. "It was absolute silence." It was true. The look of wonder was still on many faces.

So, I must say this. Pan's Labyrinth is not an art house film. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a film everyone can enjoy and savour, a film of many facets and layers, satisfying on all levels. I loved it - you can call me biased, but I really don't care.

Oh, and a final wee point. Alan Jones, one of the organisers of FrightFest, said as he introduced Guillermo to the audience that Pan was GdT's masterpiece. I would disagree. Now before you decide to dismember me, hear me out. The word 'masterpiece' is often applied to films that patently aren't, and is much misused, but in this case it is singularly appropriate. So be assured I'm not objecting to the use of the word - I'm objecting to the comment that Pan is Guillermo's masterpiece, implying that it is the only one he has in him. Guillermo del Toro has, God willing, a long and brilliant career still ahead of him, and he has many, many more masterpieces in him yet. Of that I am absolutely certain. So, I leave you with my final words, paraphrasing Alan Jones' comment.

Pan's Labyrinth truly is a masterpiece. Go see it.

Helen R. Chavez
August 30th, 2006



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