Pan's Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Review by S.K. Slevinski

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As one of the nominees for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards this year, Pan's Labyrinth got a lot of attention stateside, and logically so. As a foreign language major in school, I've seen a good deal of European-style films. This is the first film I've seen to combine the dark, artsy quality I've come to expect in foreign films with the typically American drive for escapism and dazzling special effects.

This film is a somewhat typical childhood fantasy story. The main protagonist, Ofelia, is a young girl in 1944 fascist Spain who lives with her mother and new stepfather, an ambitious and cruel captain in the Spanish army. She finds escape from her stepfather's violent life and her mother's troubled marriage and pregnancy in a fantasy world, through which she is led by the mythical faun, Pan. In this fantasy world, in typical fairy tale fashion, she must complete three tasks in effort to prove her lineage as a princess, tasks that intertwine with her real life sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

What you will see in this film that you will not see in the typical American movie is a truly realistic and violent depiction of Ofelia's traumatic life. Despite the child main character, this movie is not for children in the same way that an American movie with a similar premise surely would be. What is ultimately most novel and interesting about this film is the juxtaposition of lush fantasy and stark reality, for it is, at once, a dark and dreary European war movie and a child's fantasy story. It is the combination of these items that makes the film unique—otherwise, the war story is typically harsh and dark while the fantasy story is predictably played out, even if the ending is distinctly European.

All in all, this is an engaging cross-over film that will be enjoyed by fantasy fans and foreign film enthusiasts alike. Just don't mistake it for a children's movie.

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.