The Red Right Hand

(Pan's Labyrinth)
Innocence Has A Power Evil Cannot Imagine

Guillermo del Toro
Ivana Baquero
Sergi López
Maribel Verdú
Doug Jones

Thanks to Disney, fairytales have become heart warming stories of enchantment, romance and noble gestures. Codswallop! I read Grimm's Tales as a child and allow me to re-educate you, they were far from the cute and cuddly portrayals that they have evolved into. If I were to say the words beautiful nightmare you would possibly think of Tim Burton's work; dark, edgy and cold but still retaining an element of romance and compassion. For the last decade a select group of film-makers have been attempting to bring the genre back to its true form. In 1995 Jean-Pierre Jeunet came exceptionally close with La Cité des Enfants Perdus but a certain fantastical and futuristic element remained; which dubbed it a separate entity, replacing the darkened woods of old with a twisted harbour town. In 2000 another step was taken and PC gamers were treated to the horrific American McGee's Alice (going through a filmic treatment, due for July 2007), which brought back the gruesome element of the fairytale. The last place I would have set a plot of this kind would be post-Civil War Spain but Guillermo del Toro has managed to produce his finest work; a piece that will stand as the par for which his forthcoming work will be compared to.

The film opens on a dark citadel, buried beneath our world. A narrative unfolds, describing the legend of a princess who fooled her guards and escaped into the real world. The sunlight blinded her and erased her memory. Having wandered for days, she contracted a fever and died. It was said that her spirit lived on and would return to the underworld in another form. Her Father, the King, opened portals all over the mortal world and waited, patiently, for his daughter's return. Following this we are shown a war-torn Northern Spain. It's 1946 and a young girl, Ofelia [Baquero] and her heavily pregnant mother are travelling to meet with Captain Vidal [Lopez], who has stationed his men in an old mill, hidden in the depths of an ancient forest. The Captain is Ofelia's stepfather, a point made very clear to her nanny, Mercedes [Verdu], as she repeats, ''He's not my Father. The Captain? He's not my Father! My Father was a tailor.'' The civil war is at an end but still the rebels are pursued into the mountains, General Francisco Franco's army intent on completely wiping them out. The Captain is a truly sadistic man, with little care or concern for human life, save his own lineage – which conveniently excludes little Ofelia. What starts out as a gruesome war epic begins to slip in and out of another world. With her Mother’s health deteriorating, Ofelia is lead away by a fairy (initially disguised as an insect) to a stone labyrinth near the rear of the mill. As she makes her way down a spiral staircase she meets a tall, elegant and earthy faun [Jones]; half-goat, half-man. He explains that she is the fabled princess but they have to be sure that she has not become completely mortal. She is set three tasks, contained within a blank book that will reveal itself only unto her. She must complete these tasks all before the full moon has passed.

The story of a rebel uprising and Ofelia's set tasks shouldn't be an easy blend but del Toro has achieved such a beautiful and fluid depiction that you would start to wonder why Germany was the initial archetype for such tales – then you remember what Germany looks like and the time from which the Grimm brother's hailed from and it all makes sense. Taking the Alice In Wonderland element to new heights, Ofelia travels back and forth from the hidden netherworlds of her surroundings, seemingly oblivious of the hostilities that rage on around her. Ivana Baquero may only be twelve years old but her performance is captivating and genuinely spellbinding; Ofelia is brave, endearing, caring and so beautifully innocent that you can't help but yearn her on, completely dismissing the impossible scenarios in front of her. On the other end of the spectrum is the vile, heartless Captain Vidal, who gives the audience absolutely no opportunity to empathise for his cause; he is cold, through-and-through – the classic portrayal of an evil stepfather. The visuals are beautiful, combining latex works with CGI to successfully create a delightful and alluring environment. This goes hand-in-hand with the subtle score, courtesy of Javier Navarrete, which injects that vital forlorn, other-worldly charm and guile.

When it came to a matter of trying to criticise this film, I found it quite difficult. It is, in every sense, del Toro's masterpiece but I doubt it will be as critically recognised and as acclaimed internationally, as it will across Europe; the reason for this simply being realism. Like any good fairytale, Ofelia is pure and good, only faltering once or twice. The line between good and evil is so clear cut that the characters start to become stereotypical; the only exception being the impossibly difficult to read faun – those who know their fairy tales will know not to trust fauns, they are mischievous creatures. Another problem people may have is a classic fault that makes me cringe when I hear it as an excuse: ''I don't want to see it if it's subtitled'' Nothing makes me grind my teeth more (bar Michael Bay). As this film is set in Spain, it's obviously in Spanish with subtitles. You would think that the Americans, whose second national language is Spanish, would be welcoming of this release; alas, it will probably receive credit from critics and del Toro fans but won't do as well as it deserves. Pity. A word of caution, before I wrap this up, this is most definitely not a children's story. As the original fairytales were used as a cautionary tale, so is this. It has been designed to thoroughly mesmerize and scare you; the bugs run freely over cast and set, the blood pours in lashings and tears fall endlessly. Trust me, this is an adult's yarn, the demons are as horrific as the inhabitants of Silent Hill and the combat as gory as Saving Private Ryan.

Release Date:
24th November 2006

The Scene To Look Out For:
It’s going to have to be an illustration of one of the darker sides (and least fantastical) to the film. The Captain, having underestimating a female captive, has suffered a vicious half-Chelsea smile. As he looks into the mirror and opens his mouth, the 3 inch gash across the left side of his mouth parts. If that wasn't wince-worthy enough, he proceeds to slowly stitch up the whole thing. There wasn't a single member of the audience who wasn't cowering in their seat at this very militaristic self-surgery. The highlight being on completion of his task, Vidal pours himself a glass of whiskey and quickly downs it. As he does, every muscle on his face reacts to the pain coursing through his cheek and his freshly applied bandage runs red and yellow, as the liquids seep from his wound. Glorious!

Notable Characters:
I would be doing an injustice to both film and collaborators if I were to award one character a particular note, each individual has so much to offer and bring to the screen. Having said that, to overlook Ofelia would be a crime. Young Ivana has bestowed upon cinema-goers a heavenly, heart-warming little girl, the likes of which we haven't seen onscreen for years.

Highlighted Quote:
"You will see a bountiful feast but touch nothing; absolutely nothing. Your life depends on it. This creature... is not human"

In A Few Words:
"Gorgeously combining innocence and enmity, del Toro has created a fairytale masterpiece"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon