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Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007 | All Things, Film

After our standby sushi and sake, we set out for the sold-out screening of Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno). Earlier in the week, I had confused the director of the R-rated fable (Guillermo del Toro) with the man who directed Children of Men  (Alfonso Cuarón). The two are actually longtime friends — Cuarón was also a producer for del Toro’s film — and part of a trio of Mexican directors, who have gained recent acclaim in international cinema. The third, Alejandro González Iñárritu, directed Babel.

The compadres, all born within three years of each other, shared a camaraderie long before they achieved early success with their debut features, Cuarón for Love in the Time of Hysteria  (1991), Del Toro for Cronos  (1993) and González Iñárritu for Amores Perros  (2000), which I had the pleasure of screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1999. The three appeared on The Charlie Rose Show  to discuss their strong creative partnership and frequent collaborations. Despite their similar backgrounds and socially conscious agendas, each director has found his voice through a starkly different form of cinematic expression. Del Toro is best known for his fantasy/horror work like Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone  and Hellboy, while González Iñárritu has focused exclusively on dark dramas with multiple, intersecting storylines, as in 21 Grams — prompting some critics to question whether he is capable of linear narration. Cuarón, the elder mentor of the group with the longest track record, has worked in multiple genres at every level of production, from the low-budget indie hit Y Tu Mamá También  to the major studio serial Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Columbus Avenue Lights

Pan’s Labyrinth  was remarkable and visually stunning, meshing hauntingly disturbing images with a complex story about the enchantment of youth, in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. I was surprised to read later that the film was shot on a budget of just $15 million. CafeFX‘s Everett Burrell, collaborating as a co-producer, provided the firm’s VFX services at a deep discount, which kept costs low.

Ivana Baquero is unnervingly convincing as young Ofelia, the girl caught between two worlds. Doug Jones plays both the titular faun (not Pan, as the English translation suggests) and the faceless, corpse-colored, child-and-fairy-eating Pale Man — roles he had to learn phonetically, as the only non-Spanish speaker on the set.

Critics are almost unanimously united in their raves of the film. And just this week, Pan’s Labyrinth  was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. Cuarón’s Children of Men  was honored for best cinematography.

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