Running Time: 112 mins
Rated: Rated MA 15+.
Del Toro has two diverse groups of admirers: those who wish he made more films like the powerful dramatic story of children and teachers at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone, and those who admire him for his comic book actioners: Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy.
With Pan's Labyrinth, he goes quite a way towards satisfying both niche markets. The setting is the Spanish countryside, a small company trying to root out Communist guerrillas in the forest. The drama is powerful with Sergi Lopez (who usually plays genial characters) excellent as a ruthless commander who will let nothing stand in the way of his will in all things. Maribel Verdu appears as Mercedes, who looks after him like a housekeeper but whose sympathies are with the rebels.
The comic-book fans will be intrigued by the vivid fairytale that comes to life in the imagination of the central character, Ofelia, whose mother has married the Captain, is pregnant and has travelled to be with her new husband. Ofelia is urged to call him 'father', but is immediately alienated. She has read a story of a subterranean kingdom where the princess has come up to earth, her memories are obliterated by the sun and she lives as a human being, joys and sufferings. Throughout the film, Ofelia takes refuge in this magic kingdom, led by a grotesque faun and some tough Tinkerbell fairies.
Del Toro brings these two seemingly irreconcilable strands together, creating satisfying parallel universes.
As Ofelia, Ivana Barquero gives quite a natural performance that makes her imagination and her actions believable.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.