27 August 2006 | mizhelenuk
I saw the film at FrightFest in London a couple of days ago, and was pretty well sure I'd be seeing something special - but I ended up seeing a film that is downright extraordinary. Brutal but beautiful, magical yet earthy, it has a remarkable cast, with standout performances all round.
A special mention must go to Sergi Lopez, whose 'Captain Vidal' is indeed one of the most sadistic film creations ever seen. Yet he manages to make the audience understand why he is the way he is ... an astounding performance. Maribel Verdu's quiet but rebellious housekeeper is one of the strongest female roles I've seen in many a year, and she is supported by a wealth of talent. Young Ivana Baquero is surprisingly self-assured as 12-year-old Ofelia, and I especially liked her almost Alice-like approach to the magical creatures she encounters in the labyrinth. The icing on this warped fairy tale is Doug Jones, who gives a towering performance - and in this case literally, as well as figuratively - as the guardian of the labyrinth, a faun, full of grace and charm and latent menace. Although dubbed, his Spanish is perfect (Jones speaks not a word of the language), and his physical presence is incredibly powerful as his character teases, cajoles and harries Ofelia to fulfil her tasks. He also plays the devastatingly creepy and disgusting 'Pale Man' - a creature that almost equals Vidal in his terrorising habits.
But the cast is just one facet of this gloriously photographed film, with Javier Navarrete's hauntingly simple score weaving itself into the fabric of a film perfectly edited and written. The brutality of post-Civil War Spain contrasts with the world of magic to which Ofelia is drawn, yet everywhere she goes she has choices to make. In fact the film is about choices, good and bad, and one discovers that no matter how desperate a situation becomes, a choice is always available - although that choice may mean one's death. The film is violent - very violent, but each moment of brutality, although graphic, has a purpose - nowhere is it gratuitous.
I loved it - as I knew I would - and if the Oscar voters don't give this film at least a nod for Best Foreign Language Film next year, then I will know that they have lost any sense of reason or comprehension. Because this film is truly a masterpiece, and Del Toro's greatest work to date.