A lot of you may have heard of Pan’s Labyrinth and the overall resounding success of the film. Written and Directed by none other than Guillermo Del Toro, this film is no short of fantastic set design, an unravelling storyline and a loveable protagonist. This is a film that I come back to on almost a yearly basis. For me, it sparks so much inspiration and beauty that I never get fed up of watching it. A good film is one that you can watch repeatedly and still be inspired and amazed. Pan’s Labyrinth is one such film.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a story of escapism, of a little girl (Ofelia) in the midst of great unrest and upheaval both in her life and the time frame the film is set, 1944; Fascist Spain. The central story is a fantasy tale incorporating villains and tests much like a fairy tale. Whilst the story seems to mirror the reality of 1944 Spain, there appears to be 2 stories passing somewhat parallel to one another, intertwining at times; dream, fantasy and supposed reality. This is known as lucid dreaming. Some may argue that this film possess the same basis as Alice In Wonderland. From a literary note, both films share the idea of impending doom, and carefreeness on the protagonist’s path. The Phantasmagoric nature of Pan’s Labyrinth leads the viewer into believing this dream like state as an alternate reality. Throughout the film, the viewer is unsure as to Ofelia’s path as one of utter fantasy or a reality travelling alongside another reality. Del Toro speaks of the unrest and the fear the Spanish people possessed during this time period by mirroring it to Ofelia’s childlike innocence being forcefully taken away. The use of an archetypal little girl as the dreams and hopes of the Spanish people is beautifully and meticulously portrayed.The film begins with Ofelia as a bright eyed and adventurous child; unafraid to wander off on her own. As the film progresses, she becomes agile, cautious, protective and brave.These themes are echoed further in the alternate fantasy of the film.
The set design is probably one of the most notable aspects of Pan’s Labyrinth. Close attention to detail, tactile senses and colour are extremely prominent. Del Toro’s concept had been brewing for almost 20 years, giving rise to something so very detailed and beautiful. A lot of what you see are actually prosthetics, set building and model work. Tremendous time was taken to ensure that everything was touchable and as real as possible. This ultimately gives the film a very authentic feel, further blurring the lines between real and fantasy. Likewise much attention is placed on the soundtrack of the film. The lullaby that is used as the core thread of the film is so beautiful it is almost like you remember it from childhood. This purposeful nostalgia ties the film to the viewer, making the viewing experience incorporate our own child like wonder. This film does not let down in anyway.
There are a handful of powerful Spanish films that were written about Fascist Spain, that seem to follow the thread of a young child slipping into fantasy. One very notable film is “The Spirit of the Beehive” (El espíritu de la colmena) (1973), written and directed by Víctor Erice. This form of dark escapism is commonly used to depict that tearing loss of innocence of the Spanish people in the 1940’s. Despite the fact that the story is so elegant and beautiful, there is a lot of shock value in terms of atmosphere and social commentary. “The Spirit of the Beehive” is a much heavier film, placing a lot of social nuances that takes the film away from a child like fantasy to a more darken and threatening version of escapism. I surely recommend a viewing.
There is not much like Pan’s Labyrinth. It is a film spawned from the mind of Del Toro, influenced by many artists, stories and writers he admired. This film can be seen as a second instalment to a topic that interests Del Toro greatly. Perviously, Del Toro did another called “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001). This film was based during the Spanish Civil War (1936), but of a young boy in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. Similar to Ofelia, he searches for the secrets hidden at the orphanage, guided by the ghost of a child. This film illustrates Del Toro’s vision in a dusty, hot palette, whilst Pan’s Labyrinth explores a lush, rich palette of blues, greens and yellows. Both films a visually stimulating and a masterpiece in similar rights. I also recommend viewing.
Pan’s Labyrinth tugs your heartstrings like no other. You are engulfed by the story and even without subtitles, the language comes secondary to the visual. This film is a totally unique experience. I give this film a 5 out of 5 stars. Please note that this film is not at all fanciful, rather it is a very adult fairy tale, filled with scenes more appropriate to a mature audience. This film is dark by nature and content serious on all counts. I hope that if you do proceed to view this film that you keep in mind that this piece is very immersive, and will leave you with a sense of literary enlightenment, that very few films possess.