Monday, April 4, 2011

Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

This is a bit heavier than the usual films featured here, but really worth an entry. First surprise when I saw it (dragged by a friend): all in Spanish, with English subtitles. Directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro and released in 2006, it stars Ivana Baquero and Sergi Lopez, that some French people will know for his role in Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien. Not very well known, Pan’s Labyrinth is, in spite of some violent scenes, a little gem and a masterpiece. Definitely not for children, teenagers of the faint-hearted.


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 breeze, 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...

The story takes place after the Spanish Civil War, during the Francoist period. Ofelia travels with her mother to meet her new stepfather Captain Vidal, who is hunting the Spanish maquis fighting against the fascist regime. As soon as she arrives she gets drawn into a magical world where a faun is guiding her so she can her find her way into an abandoned labyrinth, as she is supposedly the reincarnation of the princess.

Ofelia: My name is Ofelia. Who are you?

Pan: Me? I've had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am... I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness.


Reality and fairy tale intertwine in this story, as we also see the hard reality of war and resistance in Spain. As the movie progresses, Ofelia’s pregnant mother becomes more and more ill, and we follow the two parallel stories of Captain Vidal, a very cruel man, and Ofelia, who desperately wants to believe, and convince her mother and stepfather, that what she is living is real.



Carmen: You're getting older, and you'll see that life isn't like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you'll learn that, even if it hurts.

Ofelia: No! No!

Carmen: Ofelia! Magic does not exist. Not for you, me or anyone else.


And it is said that the Princess returned to her father's kingdom. That she reigned there with justice and a kind heart for many centuries. That she was loved by her people. And that she left behind small traces of her time on Earth, visible only to those who know where to look.


Some of the scenes are extremely disturbing and violent, making it hard to watch. When we follow Ofelia though her tasks to get back to her « magic kingdom », we are drawn into this fantasy world where fairies are cute, tasks are very dangerous, and villains are very mean – the child eating monster featured in the video is, to date, the worst monster I have ever seen in a movie.

But, to be fair, when we get back to the real world of Captain Vidal, a cruel, borderline sadistic man who prefers to save his son than his wife (If you have to make a choice, save the baby) it is as bad. I have not quite figured out if Ofelia’s adventure is reality or if it is a way to escape her daily life. The role of the faun is also a bit questionnable, we are not in Disney movies anymore here, no black or white, but different shades of grey. Everybody makes mistakes. To me, though, I’d say Ofelia’s story is a sad testimonty as to what war will do to innocent people. Maybe I am wrong. It left me a bit uneasy but the filming was just amazing, the acting flawless, and it was generally a good change.


  1. stunning fairytale - one of my favourite movies of all time although couldn't agree more that at times it was more than a little unsettling. i didn't realise the actor was famous in
    france too. more spanish movies please!

  2. sure! do you have any to recommend?