[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B000UYBP0K][/pullquote] Pan’s Labyrinth begins a long time ago in an underground world a princess escaped to the world above, the sunlight blinded her and she forgot who she was. She grew sick and eventually died but her father, the King of the subterranean, knew that she would one day return, though perhaps it would be in a new body. And so he waited and waited.
Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. A bookish child with an active imagination and a store of folk tales to feed it on, she retreats from the brutality of the real world when she comes across a faun who deliver the news to her that she is that princess. His concern, however, is that she may have become a mortal in the intervening time “ and sets her three challenges to prove that she remains a true princess.
Ofelia’s retreat into this fantasy (if that is what it is) is perfectly understandable. Her stepfather is a callous Captain in the fascist army, who seems to have little but contempt for her. Ofelia’s mother is an invalid enduring a difficult labour with his son and so can’t give her daughter time and attention. The war is always present on the fringes of the story. The rebels in the hills are all around them, and someone is secretly helping them, giving them supplies of food and medicine. This seems like a secret that can’t be kept forever. And similarly, the real world must collide with Ofelia’s fairy tale world. No good seems likely to come from either of these things.
The film is a thrilling mix of fantasy and harsh reality (though don’t be mistaken; the fantasy elements aren’t twee and lovely “ at times it is truly gruesome too; at one stage Ofelia is chased by a hideous eyeless thing). The violence, both fantastic and realistic, is centre screen and unflinching when it comes.
There’s a good deal of allegory woven into the more straightforward scenes of warfare. But don’t let that lead you think it’s pretentious or difficult to follow. I’ve got to admit, I’m not very good with allegory and I suspect a lot of it went over my head, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film at all. It’s tense and exciting throughout, and gut wrenchingly sad too.