Pan's Labyrinth courtesy New Line Home Video
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A dark, richly imagined fable about the allure and danger of retreating from harsh reality into the world of the mind, Pan's Labyrinth (2006) was nominated for dozens of high-profile awards in the U.S. and abroad, and deserved every one. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro's best film to date, it's a perfect mix of horror-movie imagery and sharp psychological insights, anchored by 11-year-old Ivana Baquero's astonishing performance as a bookish preteen who seeks refuge from life's real monsters in elaborate fantasies of mythical creatures and magical quests.

Set in 1944, in the aftermath of Spain's bitter Civil War (the same period del Toro explores in his equally haunting The Devil's Backbone, an earlier DVD Tuesday pick), it begins as young Ofelia and her pregnant mother, Carmen ( Ariadna Gil) join Carmen's new husband, Captain Vidal ( Sergi Lopez), at the rural army outpost he commands. Vidal is charged with rooting out pockets of guerrilla resistance to General Franco's government, a task he undertakes with evident relish. Ofelia is still mourning the death of her father, a gentle tailor, and doesn't fully appreciate the pragmatic considerations that lead her destitute mother to marry someone like the rigid, overbearing Vidal.

Vidal and Ofelia are oil and water: He prizes military virtues - punctuality, obedience, discipline, strength and conformity - while she's a dreamer whose restless intelligence values imagination, beauty and individuality. Ofelia sees through Vidal's facade of decorum and devotion to duty to the sadist who has no use for her and is less interested in her fragile mother, increasingly debilitated and weakened by a difficult pregnancy, than the unborn child he's convinced will be a son. And she quietly ignores Vidal's dictates, aimed at curbing her spirit and producing a respectful, perfectly dressed little girl who knows her place and obeys her elders to the letter. Ofelia roams the woods, imagining herself a lost princess tasked by an imposing faun with proving her royal blood through a series of ever more perilous tasks.

Best known in the U.S. for formulaic, if handsome, genre films like Mimic (1997) and Blade II (2002), del Toro mines the shadowy depths of fairy tales and folk stories to examine the inner life of a bright, creative girl whose retreat from everyday horrors leads her into more fanciful but equally harsh realms.

Things to consider:

Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's phrase "the uses of enchantment" alludes to the way deep-seated real-life anxieties can be explored through fairy tales. What anxieties does Pan's Labyrinth address?

Though Pan's Labyrinth revolves around a child, its insights are clearly pitched to adults. Why do fairy tales maintain such a potent grip on the adult imagination?

Does it trivialize real-life horrors that occurred within living memory to use them as a backdrop for a fantasy - like, say, the X-Men film's use of Nazi concentration camps as part of Magneto's backstory?

Are there films dealing with complex emotions and situations through fantasy that have stayed with you?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Previous DVD Tuesday blogs:

Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
http:/ / community. tvguide. com/ thread. jspa? threadID= 800073953#comments"> Pi
The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood
Also: This week's new DVD releases