Writer/Director: Guillermo del Toro
Year Released: 2006
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a bookish, imaginative little girl trapped in a harsh world. She and her pregnant mother have come to live with her new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), an officer in Franco's army. The Spanish Civil War recently ended, and Franco's fascist regime is battling tenacious groups of resistants taking refuge in the forest.
You might suspect that being one of Franco's generals is a role that would require a special penchant for brutality. But Captain Vidal goes above and beyond the call of duty.
I was blown away by Sergi López's performance as Vidal. From his first moments onscreen, when he cooly greets his pregnant wife and lightly lays a proprietary hand on her swollen belly, we have a strong sense of what kind of man we're dealing with. From that moment, I was chilled and my stomach was in knots every time he was onscreen. He conveys so much with a mere gesture or cold shift of his gaze. And he continually looks at an elegant but shattered watch, which we later learn was a legacy from his father, who was killed in battle.* An eloquent metaphor for a morally bankrupt regime which seems unaware that its time has almost ended. As the movie progresses, we see more and more of the captain's sadism played out onscreen with tragic results.
I was even more impressed by Ivana Baquero as Ofelia. At first she seems unaware of the dramatic and frightening political events unfolding around her. But she's certainly afraid of her stepfather and scared for her mother and unborn brother. She escapes into a gorgeous but eerie, dangerous world of dreamlike fantasy that blends seamlessly with "real life." It also mirrors the external world. As Franco's enemies carry out acts of resistance, punctuated by explosions or acts of quiet dignity, Ofelia is called upon to face danger while performing three difficult quests.
Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) is my favorite character, followed closely by Ofelia and the doctor (Álex Angulo). Mercedes is incredibly compassionate and nurturing and, at the same time, fiercely courageous. In my perfect world, that's the kind of woman I want to be. I won't disclose anything else about Mercedes or the doctor, because I don't want to reveal any more plot points. Except to say that the doctor and Ofelia express their tremendous courage through quiet, firm acts of non-compliance.
This is a beautiful, brutal, multi-layered, and richly imaginative movie which manages to be both vividly realistic and surreal without losing focus. It's a film that revolves around contradictions: light and darkness, beauty and misery, and triumph and freedom through death. I waited years to see this film because I was a bit afraid of the brutality, and I'll admit to covering my eyes during several bloody scenes. Yes, that's the kind of weenie I am -- my teens think it's hilarious. But I really loved it, and overall, I didn't find it as disturbing as I'd expected. It's earned a place as one of my favorite films of all time.
* Then his father's comrade-at-arms carried that uncomfortable chunk of metal up his ass for ... Oops, sorry. Wrong movie. :-P
Other Recent Reviews: Compliance; 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Upcoming Review/Comparison of Book & Film: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
LOVE this movie. It's probably my favorite film in a foreign language.ReplyDelete
Glad you're a fan of this one too. :)Delete
This truly is quite a magnificent film - I enjoyed reading your write-up. Such a dark fantasy, and Doug Jones brings to life Fauno and Pale Man with eerie movement that could never be replicated by CGI.ReplyDelete
Out of curiosity, have you seen The Orphanage (exec produced by del Toro)? I'd be interested to read your thoughts on it :)
Thanks! I saw The Orphanage years ago. I remember is as being atmospheric, creepy and sad. I did like it but not as much as Pan's Labyrinth.Delete
I didn't love the movie but I agree that the performances were great. It was certainly unique and I only hope that as awful as the movies Del Toro produced lately have been, he still has his talent to direct.ReplyDelete
I know what you mean. Sometimes I appreciate a film and admire the performances even if I didn't love the movies. I haven't seen any of Del Toro's recent stuff. After reading some reviews, including yours, I decided to skip Mama. :)Delete
I haven't seen this since my wife and I saw it theatrically (we used to see everything). We both loved it, but definitely looked away during some of the more graphic brutality. At least she did, anyway.ReplyDelete
Good review. Makes me want to fire it up again.
Thanks! It's funny how we all used to go to the theater before having kids, isn't it? :-)Delete
I need to make time to see this one, glad you enjoyed it that much. It sounds great.ReplyDelete
If you see it, I hope you like it, Naida. It's difficult to watch, in some ways, but it's lovely.Delete
Loved the fantasy world created with the visuals, though I was surprised at the explicit violence. Which audience is Guillermo del Toro trying to reach I wonder, because the brutality in a children's story was also the case in The Devil's Backbone (2001).ReplyDelete
I find it quite interesting that Ofelia could have a desire to give life to Pan and an imaginary world, maybe to shield herself a little from the death surrounding her. Or perhaps the violence that happens was never really that extreme, but much worse in her mind. It seems open to interpretation.
Yes, I loved the visual storytelling too. I don't think it was meant to be a children's movie, although it has elements of a children's fantasy. I certainly wouldn't let my 9 y/o watch it. :) I think child-like fantasy stories also appeal to adults.Delete
I think the fantasy world was meant to be real, and apparently Del Toro has said so himself. However, I liked the fact that it also worked on the level of a fantasy world a child creates to escape into. Although it isn't really an "escape" since it mirrors the real world, with threatening monsters and difficult moral dilemmas. I enjoy movies where the line between reality and dreams/fantasy is blurred.
That's my take on it, anyway. :-)
I liked this quite a bit, as well. I'm with you that this is, in no way, intended to be a children's film. It's funny the preconceptions that sometimes arise just because certain elements are present in a film. I pity the young child whose parent shows them Grave of the Fireflies just because it's animated.ReplyDelete
And for what it's worth, I'm a guy and I felt squeamish during the cheek-sewing scene.
That scene made me squeamish too. :-)Delete
This always scared me and intimidated me into not wanting to watch it. Your review makes me appreciate what del Toro created, but I think it still intimidates me a bit too much. I struggle with those realism/fantasy crossovers.ReplyDelete
I can see what you mean. I waited years to see this because I was a bit afraid of the brutality.Delete
Loved this too. Of the cast, Baquero impressed me the most, but all of the performances are good. It's so well-made, and the crafts are exquisite. I haven't seen this in a while, so I need to revisit it.ReplyDelete
I agree about Banquero. One of the best child performances ever!Delete
Hands down my favourite Guillermo del Toro film. Such a beautifully told story. The fantasy world is surprisingly brutal. Despite it being, an almost, escape for Ofelia.ReplyDelete
The visuals are gorgeous. You'll never see anything quite like them.
Adore this film on so many levels!
I need to watch this movie again!ReplyDelete
I remember disliking it when I first watched it...but as my movie preference has shifted, I should give this one another chance.
Fine review, Steph.
Thank you, Novia. I often find that my opinion of movies changes over the years. I'd be interested to know whether this is a different experience for you the second time around.Delete
I was quite impressed by this film overall, but like you I also covered my eyes a lot in some of the brutal scenes! The story is beautiful but oh so very tragic, and that ending is just sooo heart-wrenching to watch.ReplyDelete
It is heart-wrenching, but since the beginning of the movie revealed the outcome, I didn't find it as disturbing as I might have expected.Delete
Great review! I love this film!ReplyDelete
I remember when I saw this for the first time in the theater. A family was so upset it was in subtitles. I don't know what they expected, but they ended up leaving. For the best really since they had young kids. They probably thought it was a children's movie.ReplyDelete
I absolutely love this movie. The ending . . . So heart-wrenching.
Thank you for your insightful review. You make me want to pop it in the DVD player and watch again right now.
Thanks! I worked in a movie theater in college -- it showed a lot of obscure and foreign movies. People used to get pissed when a film had subtitles and demand their money back. *LOL* I'm glad the family left though, since there were young kids. I can see how this film could be easily mistaken for a kids' movie.Delete
Outstanding movie and a definite 5/5 for me. Well played Steph. This is a modern classic in my eyes and as time goes on, it will be proven just how marvellous this is. It has absolutely everything in it.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Mark. I'm glad you loved this film too.Delete