Pan's Labyrinth (2006) El Laberinto del Fauno
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lpez, Maribel Verd
With an atmosphere and indeed a subject matter very much akin to his earlier The Devils Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth has the feel of being almost a sister piece to the former.
Whereas The Devils Backbone dealt with the final days of the Spanish civil war, this film transports us towards the end of WWII, 1944 to be precise around the time of D-Day.
Despite Francos fascist state winning the civil war, resistance still continues albeit on a much smaller scale. Brutal squads of civil guards were formed to completely eliminate all opposition and in the case of this story are lead by the ruthless sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez).
The hero of this tale is a 12 year old girl Ofelia, consummately played by Ivana Baquero, unfortunately for Ofelia, her mother is pregnant by and married to Captain Vidal. He is obsessed with bearing a son to carry on the family name and doesnt care at all about Ofelia. She and we the viewers are taken on a trip between a very cruel and barbaric reality and a fantasy, which can also be just as nasty and dangerous.
This fantasy / reality crossover cannot help but bring to mind tales such as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz but del Toros world is far removed visually from either of these. Drawing upon characters from mythology and fairy tales, the characters have a style more reminiscent of those you would find in a Clive Barker tale or film.
A multi layered tale, Pans Labyrinth can be read in several ways, you can if you wish to, take it completely at face value, taking the mythical, magical and monstrous as another form of reality that is only accessible to those who truly believe. On the other hand, you can accept it as the escapist fantasies and illusions of a young girl with a fertile imagination as she tries to cope with a very unpleasant reality.
Digging deeper into the mythos, you can draw parallels between the creatures encountered and Francos Spain, the Government and the Catholic Church in particular are represented through Ofelias travails, the finale of the tale itself is open to interpretation but can be seen as Spain finally breaking free of the stranglehold of the fascist state.
So you have an imaginative fantasy, an allegory, or a cruel tale of the evil that men do, whichever way you take it, its an incredible piece of work.
Thankfully there is very little in the way of CGI, relying far more on old style effects which work beautifully, this wonderful film opens in the US in December and is thoroughly recommended.