(“The Labyrinth of the Faun”) a.k.a Pan’s Labyrinth, is a Spanish film by the director of Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro.
A long time ago, in the underground realm where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breezes, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess’ soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning…
I guess I thought this film was essentially a fairy story for adults, which I guess it is. The mistake I made was supposing that the R16 rating was because the “monsters” were so scary. Actually, it’s the people in this film who prove scariest.
The film is set in Spain in 1944, and begins with young Ofelia and her mother traveling to the mountains where Ofelia’s new stepfather (“the Captain”) is commanding a troop of soldiers who are fighting guerrillas still resisting the Franco regime. Ofelia loves to read stories of fairies and as they travel throught the forest Ofelia sees a huge insect, which she recognises as a fairy. This fairy also recognises her – as the spirit of the lost Princess Moanna.
When they arrive the fairy visits Ofelia again and takes her into an old stone labyrinth, at the centre of which she meets a faun (apparently the “Pan” of the English title). The faun tells her that she must complete three tasks to find out whether she really is the lost Princess. The girl who plays Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is great, and I really loved that the film was in Spanish – not a language I know anything about.
Meanwhile we quickly find out that Ofelia’s stepfather is not merely a proud man or harsh stepfather, he is also a sadistic and twisted captain. My first shock of the film was seeing him beat a man’s face repeatedly with a glass bottle until it was crushed and broken. Reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s awful climax in Heavenly Creatures, the camera did not look away. After that scene I muted the volume and closed my eyes to all the screen except the subtitles whenever he came onscreen.
That said, there are some pretty gross “monsters” in this film. Well, one in particular (the “Pale Man”). Not a very savoury fellow, in fact he is repulsive and frightening in a new and horrific way. Several ways. Genius designs and makeup, I don’t know if he’s a ghoul from Spanish legend, but sheesh. I don’t think I’ll ever eat grapes again.
At uni I took a course on “Cultures of the Supernatural”, in which they lecturer sat at her desk at the front and sort of looked around in a dreamy way while she talked for a couple of hours, as if she could really see things that weren’t there. I enjoyed the class ok, but they were all a bunch of snobs really – quite happy to get all squealy (the students, I mean) over ghouls and vamps but grossly biased against faeries. The lecturer would smirk indulgently and the students roll their eyes… I know they all believe in faeries. Perhaps they need to call it “the Neopagan Faith of Faerie” before it before they’ll admit it… but I digress. In that course we looked at relations of people to the supernatural, the purpose it serves in culture, etc. etc. and I couldn’t help thinking back to some of the things we talked about as I was watching the movie.
When Ofelia originally sees that big gross bug flying around she recognises it as a fairy immediately – most girls (including yours truly), well, wouldn’t. This alone shows that there is something special about her, even if she isn’t the lost Princess. The thing with the changeling was interesting too. I’d never really come across the idea of changelings until I took that class, but now it seems as if they’re there in Spanish folklore too.
I really liked the way that the film seemed to be in vein of “magic realism” as opposed to “fairy tales”. This might seem obvious, but I thought I’d point it out. There were human stories going on the whole time, and there wasn’t like the “magic world” and the “real world”… there was just the real world.
The official site for the movie is pretty decent, go there to hear music from the film including the haunting lullaby. Also they apparently have some killer sketches, which from a film like this I’m sure are impressive (but then, I’m a fan of Faeries)
I recommend this movie but remember that it is a war movie, it’s dark and at times pretty intense. If you’re squeamish like me be careful around “the Capitan” – and remember that the freaky eyeball guy lives in that place and can’t get you if you do what you’re told!
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil