Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Fien Print Rating: 90
In a Nutshell: To put it simply, "Pan's Labyrinth" is far and away the best film I've seen in 2006 (pushing "Brick" and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" down a couple notches if you're scoring at home). To go that extra step, I'd be surprised -- pleased, but surprised -- if a better movie comes out for the rest of this year. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a piece of peerless fantastical storytelling, a poetic tribute to the liberating power of belief and magic and an allegory on the dangers of fascism and extremism that's absolutely universal despite the subtitles and its setting in 1944 Civil War-torn Spain. Although most casual filmmakers mostly know Del Toro from his work on "Blade 2" and "Hellboy," better than average genre pieces that are still glorified hackwork, "Pan's Labyrinth" is the logical successor to the director's underseen 2001 film "The Devil's Backbone," both stories that use imagination and mythical trappings to explore how children are effected by war. "Labyrinth" is going to be a tough sell. In addition to the period and language barriers, it's also an R-rated fairy tale -- drawing from a Campbell-style well of classic tropes, rather than any one specific story -- unremittingly dark and shockingly violent with sequences that will, indeed, scare coddled small children. It will also enchant older kids or kids who haven't been sheltered from original Grimm fairy tales or anything with a spine. Its best hope for finding an audience will be in the embrace of the critical community -- it's already played well at Cannes and in Toronto -- and in awards attention. In an ideal world, Del Toro would be a cinch for directing prizes and Guillermo Navarro's cinematography and Javier Navarrete's haunting score would receive laurels as well, as would the production design and the make-up work, which includes both fantastical creatures and nifty gore. The performances are all perfectly pitched, particularly young Ivana Baquero as the film's heroine and Sergi Lopez as the ultra-wicked Captain Vidal. It's been a long time since a movie has filled me with such pleasure at the full realization of filmmaking promise. So I'm pleased.