So far, my only exposure to anything Spanish would involve the translated version of Como Agua para Chocolate and the various Tagalized telenovelas shown on local TV (by this, basically anything that had Thalia in it)–and I don’t even think they’re from Spain Spain. Well, there was L’Auberge Espagnole but that was a French film. So I thought it was high time to watch something about Spain that’s in Spanish. And El Laberinto del Fauno (or simply Pan’s Labyrinth, for non-Spanish speaking blokes) is the pick.
Just to be clear, I watched this with subtitles. My Spanish is comprised mainly of things I learned from Dora the Explorer such as “ola”, “de nada”, and “vamonos/vamos”. Although I did pick up “conejos” and “sastre”, and I knew what those meant thanks to the dregs of Spanish influence in our veins. But in general, I cannot speak Spanish to save my life.
Fascist Spanish regime context aside, what sold this movie to me are its fantastic elements. Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale. Although it is set amidst the context of war, it has all the elements of a fairy tale: the quest which serves a test, the violation of the rules, the heroine and the villain, the deadline–everything. Plus, it has a very interesting set of characters.
You have the faun, who I assume is Pan. In charge of giving Ofelia her tasks to reclaim her throne, Pan has the aura of a shady character. Covered in wood and moss and has three fairy friends, he has the tendency to travel using the shadows. His temperament also makes him a questionable character, going totally berserk when Ofelia broke the rules on one of her three tasks.
Possibly the creepiest character ever is Pale Man. Ofelia met him (it?) during her second task. Kind of like going to the Underworld, Pan prohibited Ofelia from eating anything on that table, conveniently forgetting the part that Pale Man would move and chase the beejezus out of her once she does. Of course, being the stupid kid that she is, she eats two grapes and voila, this happens…
That, and Pale Man decapitates two of the three faeries with his (its) mouth. So yeah. Lesson learned.
Finally, you have the faeries, who don’t look like Tinkerbell at all.
The faeries are Pan’s friends/pets/surveillance corps. What makes them different is that they first appeared in the film as some sort of insect, a mantis. Ofelia then showed them how a faerie looks like and, voila. Instant metamorphosis without nasty cocoons.
Again, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale. But then having set it amidst Fascist and guerilla factions begs the question, did it actually happen? Did Ofelia really meet Pan? Was she actually a princess of some whimsical kingdom? The technique of juxtaposing something so fantastical into something so real and historically relatable makes it easy for viewers to dismiss Ofelia’s undertakings as imaginary. However, looking at one particular character can prove otherwise.
Namely, Capitan Vidal. Ofelia’s stepfather is so cold and ruthless, he didn’t even wince while he was sewing his mouth back. He shoots someone at the slightest provocation and was still alive despite being stabbed at the back, at the chest, and having his cheek sliced. His cruelty is so surreal it makes one think if he still has a heart. Vidal, at certain points in the movie, represents the height of human cruelty–the kind so inhumane it makes one question whether it is actually possible. In this respect, both Pan and Vidal are no different from each other.
There is some form of redemption on Vidal’s part when he hands the baby to Mercedes at the end of the movie. I say “some form” because he shot Ofelia prior to this event. As such, his compassion comes out as sort of half-baked.
It is interesting to note that both Ofelia’s real world (Vidal and Co.) and her fantasy world (Pan and Co.) endeavors are bound to get her killed. And they do. Her death in the real world ushered her return to her kingdom, which I think factored in to the credibility of whether Pan and the whole kingdom story were even real. One may think of the transition as a form of escapism, a characteristic usually attributed to fairy tales. But then again, I would like to believe they were real; there were a chockful of signs in the movie that hinted their reality. No, it is not wishful thinking. One was as real as the other, as Ofelia and Princess Moanna are one and the same.