Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fantasy lost out to The Lives of Others at the Academy Awards but such a setback does not diminish what is a stunning piece of world cinema, combining fantasy elements around the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) to great effect. The film conveys one girl’s need to escape into her imagination from the horrors surrounding her, only to find their influence follows her into her own fantasies. The girl in question, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), joins her heavily pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), on a journey into the mountains where her stepfather, the evil Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), is scouring the surrounding forest for insurgents still fighting in opposition to Franco and his fascist regime that won the Civil War five years previously.
While Vidal and his soldiers mop up resistance in the forest, Ofelia’s mum is largely confined to bed where her pregnancy becomes ever more difficult. Ofelia wanders the surrounding grounds and finds a stairway leading into a labyrinth where she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who informs Ofelia she is the princess of a fantasy realm who ran away and has been sought ever since by her concerned parents, the king and queen. The faun wishes for Ofelia to return to her kingdom but in order to do she must complete three tasks to prove her worth. Ofelia is presented with a book which, when opened, has blank pages that soon fill with images and instructions for her to follow.
Pan’s Labyrinth depicts post-war Spain as particularly brutal, especially with Captain Vidal leading the attack against the rebels. Such violence filters through into Ofelia’s fantasy world where each of her tasks involves something dark. The faun itself appears quite fearsome and imposing, especially when angered but in completing the tasks he has given to Ofelia, the promise is of a world better than the one she currently lives in. This escapism from the real world is reminiscent of Spirit of the Beehive but Pan’s Labyrinth is far darker and the fantasy world here retains the realism of our world in being uncompromising and often cruel.
Pan’s Labyrinth covers some intriguing storylines with the heavy emphasis on fantasy in trailers of the film being far from the reality. Fantasy does play a big part but it is Vidal’s battle against the insurgents as well the conclusion to his wife’s pregnancy that take centre stage. There is the added complication of informants among Vidal’s staff who have close ties to the nearby rebels and whose lives are at risk if Vidal discovers their loyalties. As Ofelia comes to the last of her three tasks, the fight between Vidal and the rebels also reaches its conclusion. The film offers a somewhat shocking ending but, unusually, this ending is open to debate dependent on the viewpoint of the audience. It is possible for two people to watch Pan’s Labyrinth and one concludes that the ending is happy and the other conclude it is extremely sad. I won’t say which ending I think it is, you’ll have to make your own choice, but this unique film deserves many plaudits for leaving such a burning question as the final credits roll. Del Toro’s masterpiece? Without question.
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