Guillermo del Toro’s latest film Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale as dark, spellbinding, moving, and scary as fairy tales are supposed to be.
Set against the postwar repression of Franco’s Spain, the story unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia, a dreamy little girl who is uprooted to a military outpost commanded by her new stepfather, Captain Vidal. There is little welcome when Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen arrive at the mill-turned-military headquarters. Captain Vidal is far more interested in stomping out the resistance fighters in the nearby mountains and the son that Carmen is carrying than an actual family. Ofelia finds some comfort in the housekeeper, her books of fairy tales, and in a neglected old labyrinth. At its centre, she meets a faun who tells her she is a legendary lost princess and must pass three tests to claim her throne and her immortality.
Pan’s Labyrinth is not for children. While there’s a little girl at the centre of this story and comparisons to Alice in Wonderland are inevitable, the faun in this film is not Mr. Tumnus, and the military camp has horrific moments of torture and death. While there is plenty of it, the violence in this movie is never meant to titillate, but to create a world we can truly be fearful about and it is juxtaposed with an enchanting otherworld bathed in hope and eternity. It is through this magical world that Ofelia copes with her harsh reality.
The brilliance of this film is the fascinating blend of bewitching fairy tale and brutal history. Pan’s Labyrinth delivers mesmerizing visual effects and strong performances as well. Ivana Baquero is wonderful as Ofelia and Sergi Lopez gives an extraordinary performance as the bestial captain. It’s really no wonder that the film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film.
Pan’s Labyrinth, or El Laberinto del Fauno (literally ‘the faun’s labyrinth’), is in Spanish with subtitles and is rated R.