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Pan's Labyrinth

Entry updated 15 May 2023. Tagged: Film.

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Spanish/Mexican film (2006). Original title El laberinto del fauno. Directed and written by Guillermo Del Toro. CafeFX, Esperanto Filmoj, Estudios Picasso, OMM, Sententia Entertainment, Telecinco, Tequila Gang, Wild Bunch. Cast includes Pablo Adán, Álex Angulo, Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Sergi López and Maribel Verdú. 119 minutes. Colour.

Long ago, Princess Moanna of the Underworld ascended a spiral staircase to reach the Earth's surface, only to lose her memory and eventually die there. Her father, the King, believes her spirit will one day return via one of the Labyrinths linking the two worlds. The Underworld is an Underground Kingdom, but presumably in another Dimension.

In 1944, in a mountainous region of Spain, Captain Vidal (López) is fighting the left-wing guerrillas who oppose Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War (the film is a companion piece to del Toro's El espinazo del diablo (2001; vt The Devil's Backbone), set at the beginning of that War). His sickly, pregnant wife Carmen (Gil) arrives, accompanied by her young daughter Ofelia (Baquero), from a previous marriage. The pregnancy has complications, the sociopathic Captain telling Doctor Ferreiro (Angulo) that his son must survive, even at the cost of his wife's life.

Captain Vidal's forces are billeted on an estate containing an ancient stone Labyrinth, into which Ofelia is led by a fairy (see Supernatural Creatures): here she meets an old faun (actor Jones, voice Adán) who tells her she is Princess Moanna – and can return to the Underworld if she performs three tasks to prove she is deserving of Immortality. The first two are completed, but Ofelia disobeys the Faun's instructions whilst undertaking the second, angering him. Meanwhile Carmen dies in childbirth, leading Ofelia to flee with Mercedes (Verdú), a servant and rebel sympathizer – they are caught, but it marks the decline of the Captain's fortunes as the guerrillas now attack, wiping out his men. The faun tells Ofelia to bring her newborn brother to the labyrinth to complete the third task: but Captain Vidal has followed – interestingly, he cannot see the Faun – and shoots her, taking back his son, only to be killed by the rebels. Mercedes weeps as Ofelia seems to die – but we see her accepted back in the Underworld by the King and Queen (an interpretation having Ofelia imagining the fantastical elements is possible, but Del Toro has said they happened).

The story has the real and Fantasy worlds gradually intertwine, juxtaposing the mundane and magical: both convey Horror – the former inspired by real events, the latter having the film's most iconic image, the disturbing Pale Man (Jones) (see Monsters). There are also disorientating elements such as the Faun growing younger as the film progresses (see Time in Reverse). Just before being murdered by the Captain, the Doctor says to him "to obey ... for the sake of obeying, without questioning ... that's something only people like you can do", reflecting Del Toro's central theme of "choice and disobedience" (Ofelia's defiance of the faun is also relevant). The film has references to Mythology and to works by such authors and artists as Hans Christian Andersen (see Denmark), Lewis Carroll, Francisco Goya, Arthur Machen, Arthur Rackham and Oscar Wilde. Despite the English title, the Faun is not Pan. Anti-fascist (see Politics), visually and narratively excellent, the film won numerous awards, including the 2007 Hugo for dramatic presentation (long form) and the 2007 Nebula for best script, as well as Spain's Ignotus Award, three Oscars and three British Academy Awards. [SP]

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