El Laberinto del Fauno, (2007)
It's been a long, long time since I saw a film that gripped me so hard that I had to go see it again the next day. Strangely enough, El Laberinto del Fauno (distributed somewhat inaccurately as Pan's Labyrinth here in the States) had that effect not only on me, but on the friend I saw it with (and the next day we were at the theater again with our boyfriends in tow). In fact, I plan to see this movie again in the near future - I've made several plans with several friends to go see it several times, many of whom have also seen it several times already. So either I'm not the only crazy one, or this film is just that good.
What made this film appeal to me in the first place is the imagination behind it. Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro creates a fantasy world with a simplistic, believable mythology behind it - it's not based on thousands of pages like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, nor does it parallel a major religion like C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, imagination on its own is not enough, but the execution of this imagination is fantastic. The costuming, the special effects, the monsters, the setting, the cinematography - it's almost overwhelming, it's so beautiful.
The film chronicles a few days in the life of a twelve-year-old girl, Ofelia, who is relocated to the Spanish countryside by her stepfather, a captain in the army. Just after the civil war, the fascists are trying to suppress a guerrilla uprising in the surrounding forest, and Ofelia and her invalid mother are staying in the mill that the army uses as its base of operations. Ofelia, a dreamer and a reader, is drawn into a nearby ancient structure and consequently into a world of fantasy that reflects the real life events going on around her. She learns from a faun (the "Pan" of the English title) that she is in fact the reincarnated princess of the underworld who must accomplish three tasks in order to regain her throne. Meanwhile, Ofelia must also suffer the cruelty of her stepfather and try to save her mother and infant brother from the goings-on around them.
The entire story is marked with violence and realism, in both reality and fantasy. It's not easy to watch at parts, especially as it gets pretty gory at times. Still, Ofelia puts all of her faith in her fantasy realm, and the outcome is heartbreaking.
I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. And I wholeheartedly recommend it.