This is an adult fairytale told against the backdrop of 1944’s Fascist Spain. A young girl (Ofelia) and her pregnant mother travel to live with a sadistic Spanish Captain. Ofelia’s mother has recently remarried the Captain and her unborn child is his. The Captain is fighting a personal war against rebels in the surrounding hills. Ofelia begins to interact with a fantasy world of faeries and fauns, discovering she is herself a faerie princess.
Pan’s Labyrinth is very clearly two intertwined stories. A compelling drama of rebellion, betrayal and loss in a bloody war and an equally compelling tale of a young girl seeking to escape the harsh reality of her new life.
The viewer is challenged to decide if Ofelia’s story is real or imagined, in some ways to make the same choice those around her are forced to make when she reveals the truth.
The film is in Spanish with English subtitles, is shot with del Toro’s now trademark brilliance and vision, and as mentioned, is compelling viewing. The contrast between the real world and it’s rebellion and the faerie world somehow makes both seem even more solid. The characters are believable and engaging, and in a very short space of time empathy is built for Ofelia and the adults around her.
Ivana Baquero plays Ofelia and brings life to the role, her performance is truly memorable. The cast around her is superb as well.
Pan’s Labyrinth is not an easy listening fantasy tale, or something you can just put on in the background, it’s a challenging and interesting story which encourages you to think and believe. Well worth the effort.