The Spanish civil war was no wonderland as Franco’s regime was violent and ruthless with every opposition. Guillermo Del Toro searches for the escape to a different place only to find there is no such thing, even for a fantasy driven child. Pan’s Labyrinth had the hardware needed to be the movie of the year. It’s not.
Little Ofelia travels along her pregnant mother to the countryside so that the latter can have her baby in its father’s presence, the fearsome military officer and rebel hunter Captain Vidal. The girl means nothing to her stepfather and while her mother loses balance, Ofelia finds an escape route out of the house-turned-barracks environment. A little fairy leads her to a Pan who gives her three tasks to complete before her escape is granted. While she lives in this fantasy the real world around her is burning…
Del Toro gives us two movies for the price of one, a harsh reality piece on Franco’s guerrilla hideout Spain and a dark fantasy clich© fairy tale, a true miracle for the eyes. Reality vs Fantasy should work perfectly if only it was scripted towards that. Ofelia’s adventure has no meaning, it remains a simplistic Alice-in-wonderland spin off unless it contains some kind of allegory. It probably does but it’s never clear since the two storylines move almost apart from each other for the most part of the film.
Still, one could make assumptions as to what Ofelia symbolizes, maybe she is the revolution itself which rises from its ashes in that last part. She goes through her tasks in a much childish, disobedient way, failing to turn down temptation in one, hoping for a kind king and a land with no personal burdens, realizing the hopelessness as she goes forth. If so it’s never obvious.
Artwork, cinematography and visual effects are at their best under Del Toro’s masterful direction but it’s not enough. Music is great of course and the performers do an excellent job with Doug Jones staying behind every freakish role in the script.
A visual delight that might have been a great movie.