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PANS LABRYINTH, 2007
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Movie Reviews - Pan's Labryinth the UNPAN

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Pan's Labryinth the UNPAN Review

Itís hard to believe the word ďdelicateĒ could apply to a film that features some of the most visceral and disturbing scenes of violence captured on celluloid in the last years, but itís strangely apropos.

Panís Labyrinth is a treat of a film on so many levels: a nihilistic morality tale in which the innocent are swallowed by unheeding evil, a rich political drama, and an unsentimental fairytale where princesses and satyrs exist alongside bodily fluids and temporal pain.

But somehow a surprisingly sweet note floats through all the chaos of guerilla warfare, political and personal betrayal, destructive vanity, and lost childhood. It could be the ethereal theme music that weaves in and out of the plot, or the unaffected acting of its lovely young lead. It might also be the juxtaposition of the natural and fantastical, something attempted with far less success in last yearís disappointing although beautiful Mirrormask.

At its heart, Panís Labyrinth is a story of human evil so potent it swallows all light around it. The personification of that evil is Sergi Lopez as the morally bankrupt and vicious Capitan Vidal, callous stepfather to the lonely Ofelia, played with a lovely combination of wilfulness and vulnerability by child actor Ivana Baquero, a thirteen-year-old who has already amassed as significant number of credits. Ofelia is a plaything to her vain, doomed mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil), and a useless accessory to the Capitan, obsessed only with fathering a son to carry on his name.

The harsh, repressive reality of 1944 Fascist Spain is no less dark, however, than the fantasy realm the book-loving Ofelia either discovers or imagines for herself in the ancient stone labyrinth on her stepfatherís property. Led to its centre by an adoring fairy, Ofelia is given three dangerous tasks to complete to return to the underground kingdom to which she may be the rightful heir. But the challenges her supernatural adventures spill over into the real world, and endanger her physical as well as emotional life.

The violence of Panís Labyrinth is unexpected, and cringingly realistic. But nothing is gratuitous, and nothing is wasteful. This is a film that gets under your skin, difficult and rewarding in equal measures. The disturbing juxtaposition of a childís inner world with the unforgiving black and white of its adult antagonist is something more simplistic movies would avoid completely: here, it becomes almost a dare Ė ďI know you want to look away but donít; youíll miss something astonishing.Ē

My choice for one of the best films of the year, and one of the most richly and successfully actualized fantasy films of all time. 5/5 stars

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