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NYFF: “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

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"It is in pain that we learn the meaning of God."
We can’t think of any easy context for Guillermo del Toro‘s so very excellent "Pan’s Labyrinth" beyond his own 2001 film "The Devil’s Backbone," which, while good, now seems like it was just practice for what was to come. In "Pan’s Labyrinth," unapologetic dark fantasy butts up against an even darker historical setting — the story is told from the point of view of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl for whom fairytales are still very real and at least as vivid as day-to-day life. They provide an escape she may not fully appreciate from her alarming environs. It’s 1944 in Spain, and the Fascist forces are crushing the last vestiges of resistance left after the civil war. Ofelia’s mother has remarried out of a sense of self-preservation and is pregnant by her new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), whom the two are traveling to live with. She desperately hopes he’ll take to and take care of Ofelia, in part because her pregnancy seems to be killing her, but she doesn’t grasp the charming depths of personality. We do, because we soon see him "interrogate" a local by bashing his face in with a wine bottle.

Ofelia, regardless, has other things to focus on — she wanders off into an ancient maze behind the estate and discovers at its center an underground chamber with a faun (played, with the aid of puppeteers to provide facial expressions, by Doug Jones) waiting within. He tells her he’s been waiting for her, that she is the reincarnation of a long-lost princess and that he can return her to her palace and waiting royal parents once she completes three tasks to prove her identity.

Del Toro grasps that escape through fantasy doesn’t necessitate fluffy clouds and ponies. Ofelia’s other world is vivid and magical, but also filled with uncertainty and dread (and terror, in fact — the second task had us literally shaking in our seat). Still, there she is the main character, the important one, the one with responsibilities. In the real world, she and her mother are without power, living under the thumb of a monster of a man given leadership at a time when the world seemed to have gone insane.

"Pan’s Labyrinth" offers all kinds of visual splendor, from the overall richness of color to the lavish fantastical set-pieces to smaller touches of enchantment, like a mandrake root unfurling and coming to life like a baby (and don’t even get us started on the sound design). As the worlds begin to intersect, subtle parallels occur, from the soldiers’ opening of umbrellas echoing the breathing of a giant toad to, later, the stumbling of a sightless ogre being paired with a no less frightening real life correspondent.

The film ends on a note that’s both infinitely troubling and almost perfect, carrying with it the implication that adulthood is a terrible spectrum of moral compromise. We can’t recommend the film enough, though we have to wonder about its fate at the box office. "Pan’s Labyrinth" is a splendid intersection of genre and arthouse, which may, like "The Host," make it appealing to no one in our compartmentalized moviegoing public. Not that we imagine Del Toro cares — much of what is exhilarating about "Pan’s Labyrinth" is that it seems to be exactly the film he wanted to make.

Screens October 15 at Avery Fisher Hall; opens in theaters December 29th.

+ "Pan’s Labyrinth" (NYFF)
+ "Pan’s Labyrinth" (Picturehouse)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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