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Spanish film is dark and bittersweet

January 30, 2007|by ROWAN COPLEY

Review

Watching "Pan's Labyrinth" is like seeing a fairy tale in action. This Spanish-language movie by Guillermo del Toro is a story of childish fantasies and innocence lost to the cruelties of the real world. Dark and even a little bittersweet (like good chocolate), it weaves a captivating tale of heroism and terror.

Our protagonist is a cute little girl named Ofelia who loves fairy tales. We're immediately drawn into her world when she wanders into the forest and meets a large bug which she calls a fairy. Her mother tells her she is too old to believe such childish things.

The bug leads Ofelia to a world different and darker than that of a stereotypical fairy tale. We, as the audience, are never really sure whether Ofelia's strange friends - a warm yet unsettling faun and a trio of sketchy fairies - are real or imaginary. Also ambiguous are these creatures' motivations - we don't know whether the faun is looking after the best interests of Ofelia or using her for his own purposes. Del Toro lets viewers decide that for themselves.

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In the end, however, I don't think it really matters. What is important is how these fantasies go with the real-life events happening around Ofelia - guerilla warfare, betrayal, the impending birth of Ofelia's sibling and an absolutely ruthless and cruel stepfather.

There is violence and gore, in the true Brothers Grimm fairy tale tradition. The violence is never gratuitous and much of it is off-camera, but it can sometimes make you squirm anyway.

If you want to see a spiritual kin of a Brothers tale, this is the film for you. It is worth seeing for the story alone.

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