Pan’s Labyrinth

Director: Guillermo del Toro


So this is the first foreign language film I am blogging about (though by no means the first foreign language film I have watched) and I have to say that I think I prefer French … or even German … language films. Probably because I know those languages a bit so find that I don’t have to concentrate on the subtitles with the same intensity as I had to when watching Pan’s Labyrinth.

“In perhaps his most mature picture, the director manages to bring the two strands together, creating a film that is both eerie and built around effects technology.” (Andy Willis, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 915) Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed built around effects technology and eerie. While del Toro has perfectly captured the dual nature of fairy tales … beautiful but at the same time frightening and often deadly … the effects do not always blend seamlessly into the real action thereby drawing your attention.

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) sees the world differently (due to being the reincarnation of the underworld’s princess from the tale at the start of the film) which enables her to venture into the other realm. She takes all the strangeness in her stride but then this could be because she is a child and therefore more willing to believe in the supernatural.

The creatures from the underworld are beautiful but creepy with a slight sense of wrongness about them. The whole film is very stylized and therefore instantly recognizably as a Guillermo del Toro film. I especially like the recurring imagery of a ram’s head which is symbolic of the faun Ofelia interacts with. The most iconic image is also one of the most grotesque moments of the film. 

I can see similarities to the Harry Potter films particularly in the use of a mandrake root and the way information appears in the book – reminiscent of how the Marauders’ Map displays its content. I can also see why del Toro was attached to direct The Hobbit (on a side note I am extremely glad that Peter Jackson is once again at the helm!!) as there is a similarity between the landscapes of The Lord of the Rings and Pan’s Labyrinth. The Underworld has an elvish quality to it, despite being underground. There is a simple natural beauty and elegance to everything. The attention to detail is brilliant – you get the feeling that there is so much more to what you are seeing. The soundtrack is wonderfully eerie and again I can see, or rather hear, the similarity to Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings.

The fantastical elements never quite gel with the real world elements which make it feel almost as if there are two separate stories taking place. I don’t really see how the Captain’s (Sergi Lopez) story is essential to the plot although It does demonstrate the cruelty of the real world. Indeed Andy Wallis says “but for all its startling beauty and the strength of its performances, the film remains somewhat unsatisfactory as the allegorical elements of the story fail to full gel the reality and fantasy elements, with the result that Pan’s Labyrinth remains two outstanding halves rather than one spectacular whole.” The real world brutality is quite graphic and del Toro definitely does not sy away from some gory scenes – the Captain doing his own stitches on his face comes to mind here! The blood on Ofelia at the end is so bright that it’s almost unnatural but then I guess that’s in keeping with the rest of the film. I like the circularity del Toro has used – one of the opening images is the same as one of the closing images.

What it all boils down to is a quest, with tasks you must complete along the way in order to prove your worthiness (the bread and butter of fantasy narratives) which is just what Ofelia does. Her reward for her sacrifice is to return to the Underworld and live a happy life.

I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth and while it was stunning I was expecting there to be more fantasy then there actually was.


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