Today, for Hispanic Heritage Month we celebrate Guillermo del Toro's fantastic dark fantasy, "Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)." This was not del Toro's first film -- he already had five films under his belt, including big-budget hits like "Hellboy" and "Blade II." But this is his most landmark achievement, 14 years in the making.
In 1993, del Toro started compiling the nuggets of the story. His ideas and drawings spanned several notebooks. The story goes that he mistakenly left these journals in the back of a taxi. Feeling he lost all his work, he gave up on the idea of making the film entirely. That is until one day when the taxi driver finally tracked him down with all the notebooks intact. Convinced this was a sign, del Toro made it his mission to complete the film.
The labor of love paid off. "Pan's Labyrinth" premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and received a 22-minute standing ovation, one of the longest in the festival's history. It went on to win a multitude of awards, including three BAFTAs and three Oscars (considering the movie's theme of threes, very fitting). "Pan's Labyrinth" stands as one of the few high fantasy movies nominated for the Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film Award (now Best International Feature Film). It's a must-watch, not just for Hispanic Heritage, but also as a perfect lead-in to the horror-filled month of October.
"Is this real life or is it just fantasy?" The line from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" encapsulates the genius of Guillermo del Toro's dark fantasy. Is everything taken at face value in this story, or is this all the product of an overactive imagination trying to make sense of a horrible set of circumstances?
The time is 1944. Spain is in the early stages of the Francoist dictatorship that will preside over the country for the next 35 years. Ofelia's stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is a cold and heartless man completely under the spell of Falangism. His task? Keeping the republican rebels at bay. There are a few, however, stalking the woods not far from the outpost. 10-year-old Ofelia seems unaware of the terrible atrocities around her, but she knows her mother is not well and her stepfather is not a man to trust.
As they make their way through the country, mom Carmen suddenly feels nauseous. The car stops and Ofelia gets out to explore the greenery around them. A strange, praying mantis-like insect flutters by. Ofelia, taken by her stories, believes the bug to be a fairy. Of course, this stop makes them 15 minutes late, thereby making an already perturbed Vidal even more angered when they arrive. But Carmen is carrying his supposed son -- heir to his military legacy -- so he keeps some of the anger at bay.
As Ofelia explores the grounds, she sees that the fairy actually followed her. Ofelia follows the fairy to an ancient stone labyrinth but Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), Vidal's housekeeper, stops her. Mercedes has a secret, however. She has a connection with the rebels in the woods. She provides them food and other provisions undercover.
Later that night, the same fairy visits Ofelia and transforms into a more humanoid creature. The fairy leads her back to the labyrinth. In the center is a mythical creature, a faun, who claims that Ofelia is actually the reincarnation of a princess. The labyrinth is a portal back to her mystical world, where her real father rules. The faun tells her that in order to prove that she is the princess, she must complete three tasks. Doing so will make her immortal and return her back to her kingdom.
Hispanic Heritage Month Connections
Guillermo del Toro's dark fantasy is set during a time of upheaval. It's not the first time that del Toro used the backdrop of Francoist Spain. His 2001 gothic horror film "The Devil's Backbone" is set during the final year of the Spanish Civil War, which lead to Francisco Franco's fascist regime. As such, many have pondered if the unnamed men hiding in the woods in "Pan's Labyrinth" are actually the grown-up characters from "The Devil's Backbone." Del Toro won't confirm nor deny this fan theory, but the fact that "Pan's Labyrinth" serves as a thematic companion piece lends a lot of credence to it.
Why You Should See It
Guillermo del Toro's 2007 fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" is two movies in one. Is Ofelia conjuring up these fantastical creatures as a way to cope with the harsh realities of the real world, or should we take everything on-screen at face value? Ofelia wants to believe she's a princess, as it's her ticket out of her dark and oppressive life. She also wants the same for her baby brother. But there are many clues that tell us that everything is real. To get into it would lead to spoilers. Just give it a watch and decide for yourself.
Did You Know
There's a ton of interesting facts about this movie. To stick with the movie's themes, we'll give you three:
- Guillermo del Toro wrote the English subtitles himself. The director took it upon himself after getting upset with the translation of his dialog in "The Devil's Backbone." Instead of transliterating the dialog from Spanish to English, del Toro goes deeper. As del Toro explained in interviews, "I took about a month with a friend and an assistant working on them, measuring them, so that it doesn't feel like you're watching a subtitled film."
- "Pan's Labyrinth" is not at all about Pan, the mischievous Greek goat-footed god. The character Faun is a representation of a mythical Roman creature that is more indifferent towards humans. English-speaking markets picked "Pan" as they felt the creature was more well-known there.
- All of the cast and most of the crew in the movie are Spanish, except Doug Jones. The Indiana native played both the Faun and the Pale Man. Jones, an unofficial "Andy Serkis of acting through monster prosthetics," had to learn his dialog in Spanish. He also learned Ivana Baquero's dialog so he knew his cues. All of this ended up being for naught, as Spanish theater actor Pablo Adán later dubbed his dialog.
Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.