Pan's Labyrinth: (El Laberinto del Fauno)

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It is Spain in 1944, at a time when Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s forces are crushing any resistance to his rule with an iron fist.

A little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) has landed in the middle of this madness, because after her dad died in battle, her mom, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), remarried sadistic army Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), not for love, but for survival.

As the story opens, we find mother and daughter making their way across a spacious, if war-torn landscape to their new country home, an abandoned mill. The Captain has converted the quaint structure into a military headquarters from which he dispatches his troops to root out rebels hiding in the nearby mountains.

Upon arriving, Ofelia finds herself ignored by both her very pregnant, bed-ridden mom and by her callous stepfather who is preoccupied with the war, at least when not wishing that his wife is about to bear him a son. Surrounded by the constant sight of soldiers and the cruelty of the bloody conflict, the terrified tyke is fortunate to find a sympathetic soul in Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), a housekeeper who shares a secret refuge from all the madness, a neglected garden labyrinth located nearby.

Ofelia soon finds herself frequently seeking to escape her loneliness and emotional pain in this overrun oasis of solitude. There, her fertile imagination blossoms as she wanders along its maze-like winding paths, finding a bounty of frightening creatures springing to life. One of Ofelia’s pretend friends, a half-goat/half-man faun, Pan (Doug Jones), informs her that she is the long-lost princess of this peaceable kingdom’s underworld. But in order to descend to her throne where she will be reunited with her real father, the curious lass must first complete a trio of dangerous tasks.

This fantastical premise underpins Pan's Labyrinth, an intriguing example of magical realism written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Blade II). Deftly blending computer-generated and live-action effects, this marvelous movie presents a plausible picture of how a child might deal with the horrors of war by creating a parallel universe filled with fanciful characters. Though not for the squeamish or fans of Fascism, this morbidly bewitching feature is an enchanting fairy tale, even if one designed strictly with adults in mind.

Excellent (4 Black Stars). Rated R for profanity and graphic violence. In Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 112 minutes.  Studio: Picturehouse.


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