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Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY) has fashioned an adult fairy tale so visually inventive with such a compelling story that it is certain to become a classic. If there is one perfect film of 2006, it is certainly this one.
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, FRAGILE) is a young girl who tries to forget about the war torn world she lives in by delving into the fantasy world of books. The fascists are battling the rebels in Spain. After her father is killed in the fighting, Ofelia’s mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil, 1998’s DON JUAN) remarries Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS), a brutal fascist who cares more about the welfare of his unborn son over that of his new bride, who is having a very difficult pregnancy.
One night Ofelia is visited by a fairy who takes her to visit the faun Pan (Doug Jones, HELLBOY), who informs her that she is really the reincarnation of a magical princess. To prove her worthiness to rejoin her father the king, she must complete three tasks. Mirroring this tale is the work of maid Mercedes (Maribel Verdu, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) and Dr. Ferreiro (Alex Angulo, OUR DAILY BREAD) as they help the rebels by spying on the Capitan and stealing supplies.
Del Toro builds tension in both the fantasy and real world. Ofelia and Mercedes’ struggles are equally compelling. The hardships of the real world add immediacy to the fantasy world and visa versa. This is a dark tale and Del Toro doesn’t sugarcoat the violence. The film is a startling reminder that children are not immune to the horrors of the world. We desperately want Ofelia to succeed in her tasks, because the alternative life with Capitan Vidal is too harsh to stand. Del Toro’s screenplay is tightly woven. Watch how the fantasy moments mirror what is going on in the real world. There is a larger than life feel to this tale, but Del Toro is able to ground it in real human struggles. Even Ofelia’s “kid” crises take on a grand feel in the context of the fantasy realm.
Visually the world is original. Stick bugs transform into fairies. Pan’s body is like he has made of moss. And the Pale Man that Ofelia encounters in her second task is frighteningly designed with its eyeballs in his hands and his pale skin hanging from his bony body. Baquero provides the wide wonder and terrified concern for her mother that the part needs. Verdu brings great strength to her character. She is smart and a fighter. However, Lopez’s Capitan Vidal is a villain for the ages. Savage, cold, calculating, he is the embodiment of evil. Yet Lopez makes he feel real, which man him all the more frightening. The character reminded me of Ralph Fiennes in SCHINDLER’S LIST. When Vidal’s comeuppance came, the crowd I saw the film with cheered loudly.
The film creates that kind of passion in the audience. I was whisked away by the story, which actually tells a fairy tale and war drama with equal intrigue and power. This is the best film of 2006 — it’s a masterpiece.