DVD Release Date:  May 15, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  January 19, 2007 (wider release)
Rating:  R (for graphic violence and some language)
Genre:  Fantasy
Run Time:  112 min.
Director:  Guillermo del Toro
Actors:  Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil,  Doug Jones, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo

The most surprising movie-related storyline to emerge from 2006 is the rise of three filmmakers from Mexico. Alexander González Iñarritu (“Babel”), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) and now Guillermo del Toro with Pan’s Labyrinth have made three of the best films to reach American theaters in recent weeks.
 
The most contemporary, searing, and heart rending of the three may be Innaritu’s Babel, the most cinematically show-stopping Children of Men. But as a work of imagination and originality, Pan’s Labyrinth tops them both. It’s a reminder that not all fairy tales are for children, and that the power of the imagination is something that can be kindled and reawakened in adults, given the right material. Pan’s Labyrinth is, in a word, breathtaking. The film opens in wider release today, so check your local listings:  It’s one movie you won’t want to miss.

That’s not to say that the film is appropriate for all ages. No, this fairy tale is suffused with wartime darkness and menace, but the threats and surrounding violence are a crucible for the film’s young protagonist, who is told of great rewards if she can resist temptation, navigate difficult choices, and ultimately face the prospect of making the greatest of sacrifices.

Ivana Baquero stars as Ofelia, a young girl in post-Civil War Spain, who moves with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) into the home of Capitan Vidal (Sergi López). Although the captain is her step-father, Ofelia is instructed by her mother to address him as “father.”

Alone and frightened by her surroundings, Ofelia is befriended by a fairy who leads her into a labyrinth on the grounds of her new home. There she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who reveals that Ofelia is a princess from another realm, who long ago entered the human’s world. She can re-enter her earlier world by carrying out three tasks.

Ofelia is disbelieving, but when a confirming mark appears on her shoulder, and the blank book handed to her by the faun suddenly flows with colorful text, Ofelia lays claim to the promise of her otherworldly identity and sets about to complete the tasks before her. At the very least, such belief provides an avenue of escape from the loveless union between Ofelia’s mother and the captain, whose sole interest is the welfare of his unborn child.

As Ofelia withdraws into this alternative reality, the trials of those around her grow more dire. Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the captain’s housekeeper, and the captain’s doctor (Álex Angulo) provide secret aid to rebel troops in the nearby forests, compelled by family ties, compassion for the weary fighters, and growing disillusionment over the captain’s sadistic tendencies.

Ofelia’s mother also struggles with her daughter’s imaginary life and a troubled pregnancy. It is this situation that Ofelia is commanded to fix by performing her first task – placing a mandrake root under her mother’s bed.

The second task is a test whereby Ofelia must enter the realm of a monstrous being seated at a table with a prepared feast, but not partake of any of the food. To taste this “forbidden fruit” could cost Ofelia her very life, the faun says. Failure will disrupt the plan to unite Ofelia with her otherworldly father, for she will be banished from the presence of the faun.