Saturday, 16 January 2016

Pan's Labyrinth (4 Stars)

The original title of this film in Spanish is "El Laberinto del Fauno", literally translated "The Labyrinth of the Faun". It was a strange decision to call the English edition of the film "Pan's Labyrinth". The reason is clear: the faun in the film looks approximately like statues of the Greek God Pan, but the director, Guillermo del Toro, has spoken out and said that the faun isn't supposed to be Pan. It would have been highly inappropriate. Pan is the God of fertility, usually depicted with a large phallus. Apart from this, the faun's role is that of a servant, not of a God.

Nevertheless, I'll stick with the traditional English name for the film rather than confusing people by renaming it. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a fairy tale, but it's anchored in the real world. Most fairy tales take place in a magical kingdom, far removed from our drab reality. Some fairy tales have a hook in reality, such as "The Wizard of Oz", in which a young girl leaves the real world, travels to a magical world, and then comes back to the real world when her adventure is over. "Pan's Labyrinth" takes it a step further by having the magical world embedded in the real world, so that the young girl Ofelia can walk in and out of the magical world at will, and the creatures from the magical world are able to visit her in the real world. They are two different worlds with clear boundaries, but they're boundaries that can be crossed. "Pan's Labyrinth" tells two stories in parallel, one in each world happening simultaneously.

The film takes place in Spain in 1944. Ofelia travels with her mother to visit her step-father, a Captain in the fascist government responsible for eliminating rebels who are at large in the woods in a remote area. It's the front line of the battle, but Captain Vidal insists on having his wife with him because she's about to give birth, and he says that sons should be born where their fathers are. He's convinced it will be his son and heir, despite having no evidence to support it. Good old-fashioned patriarchal thinking! Ofelia refuses to call the captain her father. Step-fathers are rarely accepted by the children, even if they have good qualities as fathers, and in this case Captain Vidal has none.

While a life and death battle is going on with the Spanish resistance, Ofelia is visited by fairies. They tell her that it's thought she's a long lost princess of a magical kingdom. The fairies lead her through a labyrinth in the garden and take her through a door, where she's introduced to a faun. The faun tells her that she must carry out three tasks to prove that she really is the princess.

The stark contrast between the beautiful but dangerous world of magic and the grim reality of wartime Spain is extreme, but this makes the film even more wonderful. There's a perfect balance between the two. This hints that magic is all around us, but only those with an open mind can see it. Neither the military captains nor any other materialists in our world will never see it.

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