“And, like most of us, she left behind small traces of her time on earth. Visible only to those who know where to look…”

Narrator, Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno), Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, at page 97

The year is 1944. Franco’s fascist regime controls Spain. Ofelia, a bright and imaginative eleven-year-old with a fondness for fairy tales, is forced to move to the countryside to live with her sadistic step-father, an army captain bent on eliminating a local band of resistance fighters hiding out in the mountains. Ofelia’s discovery of a stone labyrinth in the woods leads to an encounter with an enigmatic and vaguely menacing faun. The faun is a scout from another world that exists parallel to our own – a world in which Ofelia may play a very important role.

Guillermo Del Toro’s film is a unique blend of realism, horror, and fantasy. It is a layered narrative that weaves together two different realms, presented against a backdrop of dream-like imagery and sound that echo throughout the film.

Del Toro does not sanitize the brutal violence of his chosen environment - the tools of state terror include summary executions and torture. His depiction of life in the fascist regime is a disturbing reminder of the despair that accompanies a society where monsters are not relegated to nightmares, and authoritarian cruelty is allowed to flourish in the light of day.

The bleakness of the setting, however, also reminds us of the importance, and power, of hope. Ofelia is a candle in the night. She demonstrates that we are responsible for our own choices during dark and uncertain times – and that disobedience may offer a path to redemption.

Highly recommended.

Useful resources:

The definitive release of this film is the 2016 blu-ray edition published by the Criterion Collection (spine number 838).

 

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