Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Alex Angulo
(R, 112 min.)
"The world is but a canvas to our imagination." Henry David Thoreau
This exquisite tapestry weaves the final brutalities of the Spanish Civil War with a fantasy world equally dark and brooding. A morality tale that refuses to moralize, it is presented in that half-light before the dawn, when vivid dreams overlap daylight’s pending reality, and the beasts of ancient lore still hold sway over minds innocent and true.
The reality that frames the fantasy tale is brutal in the extreme, 1944 Spain with Franco’s fascist victory assured but not completely anchored, a time perhaps more violent than the actual war itself. Captain Vidal (Sergio Lopez), taxed with stamping out any pockets of resistance near his post in the mountainous North, does so with efficient relish, even if it means taking down a few innocent farmers who have the audacity to proclaim such.
Unfortunately for twelve-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), the sadistic captain is her new step-father, and she and her painfully pregnant mother Carmen (Adriana Gil) have traveled to this desolate outpost to be with him - although it is not so much the pleasure of their companionship that the man desires, but his almost obsessive compulsion to have his son born under his auspices. Never mind that the journey has complicated an already difficult pregnancy.
No wonder a particularly large preying mantis seems a favorable diversion to Ofelia, who follows it through the thick wood and then into an ancient labyrinth, where a somewhat grotesque faun tells her what every young girl longs to hear – that she is an immortal princess. Her real father has been searching for her and she need only complete three tasks before the full moon to enjoy all the ripe fruits befitting her royal status.
Allegorical possibilities and rich symbolic imagery elevate this tale both written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. The deep woods seem almost tropic in nature, but littered as they are by crumbling stone figures, they hold a primordial dread. It seems a fitting haunt for our faun, Pan, and we wonder if his story is not some sort of trap for Ofelia. This half man, half goat is not fierce like the ancient minotaur (half man, half bull) housed in King Minos’ labyrinth in ancient Crete, but there seems a cunning and perhaps some guile behind his easy smile. Like Proserpina, Ofelia fails to heed a warning not to partake of the lush banquet set up in the elaborate underground ruled over by Pale Man, whose flesh hangs about his eyeless face like an alabaster Shar Pei.
We also have an ancient dying tree whose life force is being sucked away by a Jabba the Hud like toad embedded in the mud and slime beneath its roots. Too bad Ofelia is wearing her new dress and shiny shoes for this task, but she succeeds in getting him to swallow her three magic rocks and therefore belch up his entire disgusting maw, extracting a large black key from the goo.
Some contend the sick tree is Spain, the fat toad the fascists and elites draining its life. The large black key is also not unlike the one kept by Captain Vidal to lock up all food and supplies, so he can dole them out to the hungry villagers at his discretion. Does Ofelia’s key give her some power as well? And some have even suggested that the Captain is akin to Pale Man, equally blind and ruthless, their physical resemblance expanding later in the film when his face is disfigured.
And permeating this Salvador Dali like vision is the beauty of the Spanish language, particularly as its rich tones emanate from Pan, creating a kind of royal gravitas. But what makes our experience even richer is the light touch that allows each member of the audience to interpret his own reality. Is Pan’s labyrinth a mere psychological escape for Ofelia, an allegorical overlay of fascist Spain, or a magical reality seen only by the young, pure, and chosen?
Or perhaps, it is all three.
Here are a few more exotic films that will capture your imagination:
We will be more circumspect and pass up the lovely sugared grapes that Ofelia stole when she visited the underworld banquet table presided over by Pale Man. Just two were all it took to awaken the eyeless wonder from his stupor.
A safer bet are the delicious Shepherd’s Potatoes served to the Captain’s dinner party for the local officials. How can you go wrong with garlic, onion, olive oil, and rosemary – a great side for the young and tender beef from the Guadarrama Mountians, where Pan’s Labyrinth was filmed.
Too bad Ofelia had to go to bed without her supper – I guess her muddy shoes and slimed jumper didn’t pass the dress requirements.
A hearty old-fashioned side dish for beef or lamb.
3 or 4 large potatoes
3 tbsp chopped garlic
1 large onion
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp bittersweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
3 tbsp rosemary
Peel and dice the potatoes. In an earthenware dish, fry the finely chopped onion and garlic with the rosemary in a little olive oil until golden. Add the potatoes and toss mixture in the oil.
Add the pimentón and enough water to cover the ingredients. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Can be served with meats and covered in your favorite dressing
Recipe Source: LaTienda.com