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Movie Review: "Pan's Labyrinth"

Pan's Labyrinth won three Academy Awards -- but not Best Foreign Language Film, and how that could have happened is beyond me. This film is terrific, don't miss it.

Basic setup: we begin by seeing a 12-year-old girl and her very pregnant mother riding in a car, in Spain in 1944 (I almost laughed when, in Pythonesque style, they subtitled "Espana 1944" as "Spain 1944". Like I couldn't have figured that out?), to meet the man she has married, after her husband (the girl's father) died, a sadistic captain in the Spanish army.

The Spanish Civil War is winding down, but there are some pockets of resistance, and part of this movie is about how the small army base headed by this captain fights off the rebels.

The other side of the film shows how the girl, Ofelia, retreats into a fantasy world. We learn she loves to read fantasy books, and on the grounds there is a labyrinth... although she won't go into it until the very end of the film.

The violence of the war is juxtaposed with the fantastic fantasy world, and while we are never certain whether the fantasy world (where there are some fantastical -- and I use that word properly here -- characters including a praying mantis that turns into a fairy, and a large man-like creature who has a head like a ram -- this, in fact, is the "Pan" of the title) is real or not, there are at least two scenes in which things occur that could not do so unless the two worlds interacted.

The rest is left up to you, the viewer. This movie, though set in Spain and with a mostly Spanish cast, was made by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (who is no relation to actor Benicio del Toro), and filmed in dark and brooding tones and colors. Particularly good performances are given by Sergi Lopez, who plays the captain; Maribel Verdu, who plays his assistant/housekeeper named Mercedes, who turns out to be much more than a housekeeper, and Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia with both wide-eyed innocence and steely resolve. Without giving too much away, there are second chances given, and the climax of this film, after appearing to be extremely sad, winds up teaching -- without preaching -- a lesson on the nature of sacrificing self.

Warning: there is some pretty graphic violence in this film. I'm not normally squeamish, but there was one scene I literally had to turn away from.

And I still can't figure out how this didn't win the best foreign language film Oscar (the three awards it did win were for cinematography, art direction, and makeup, all well-deserved), although I have also received a recommendation from a BCB reader to see the film that did win, "The Lives of Others, so I'll put that on the list, too.


Oh, and the Cubs lost again, 13-2 to the White Sox. Nuff said, I think.

Till tomorrow.