The greatest mistake you could make is to believe that Pans Labyrinth (2006) is anything close to a children's fantasy film sweetly watched before bedtime. Guillermo Del Toro who not only directed, but produced and wrote the film, creates a dark fantastical masterpiece that will leave you enthralled by his imagination. Pans Labyrinth (originally known in Spanish as El Laberinto del Fauno) is a war film embedded in a fantasy world, a fairy tale with political intrigue, and a childrens story without the sugar coating. Del Toro messes with popular ideas of what fairies and fauns look and act like, as well as with the familiar notions of princesses and magical kingdoms. What is left in the end is an unforgettable story of a young girl who navigates her way through a violent post-war society.
Set in 1944, Spain had just begun to settle in to a regime of fascism under Francisco Franco. At this time Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil) travel to live with Captain Vidal (Sergio Lopez), commander of a Franco troop and Ofelias new stepfather. Located in a remote area of Spain, Captain Vidal is tasked with eliminating a guerrilla resistance, through which the audience soon learns of his sadistic, patriarchal, and cold nature. Unable to accept her new surroundings and new father, Ofelia finds potential refuge in an underground reality which boasts a world of no pain. However, in order to reach this world, Ofelia must first navigate her way through its labyrinth.
Experiencing this film through the eyes of a child, fantasy almost becomes a mechanism in which Ofelia understands the violence of Franco Spain and her new father. Much of what she experiences in the fantastical world echoes that of her real world experience. One of these notable parallel scenes comes when she faces the pale man who sits at a dinner table very reminiscent to a prior scene in which Captain Vidal takes the place of the Pale man (Doug Jones who also played Fauno). This is of course partnered with the grotesque and carnivorous creatures who despite being presented as a friend, display an aggressive and foe like nature at times. The way in which Del Toro through Pans Labyrinth, does not separate violence from fantasy opens up a new realm of thought which counter acts the traditional morale fairy tale.
Latent with symbolism and imagery, Pans Labyrinth is not a film to be experienced only once. It is first essential to view the film in its generic beauty. This means you must first simply notice its atmospheric qualities. From the very beginning the camera pans over the remnants of an ancient Spain, cracked relics and mossy covered nature presents itself to the audience as Ofelia runs her finger over the various objects. The color palette is cool, and the dark undertones begin to be put in effect. Watch this same movie again and then now take notice the imagery that is very representative of child birth and rearing. Notice the trees and subtle effects that take the shape of a uterus and refer back to the womb. By this viewing, it is impossible to simply just leave the world of Pans Labyrinth and similarly the world of Guillermo Del Toro.
In commenting about the film Del Toro says, I believe that children have perfect personalities, and then we ruin it, with our intelligent decisions to educate them", and this is no better presented through the film. So often the fairy tales which we come to know leave the child uncorrupted and unaffected by the mature issues of what is known as the adult world. However, those worlds are not entirely separate and they are not exclusive to adults. Del Toro, through Ofelia, gives an unadulterated look at the ways in which a child just may be forced to grow quickly, and how much of the world is imparted on them, though society likes to filter it.
I believe it undoubtedly true that Pans Labyrinth will continue to stand the test of time and prove itself a 21st century classic. To achieve what Del Toro has, especially as a foreign language film without the Hollywood spectaclewhich is usually very hard to sell to an American audienceshows, if not proves, the artistic prowess of the film. With a number of equally great works under Guillermo Del Toros belt (Hellboy (2004), The Devils Backbone (2001), Crimson Peak (2015)), he is a director and an artist that we should continue to look out for, and for some, that journey may begin with a brilliant work called Pans Labyrinth.