Maybe it was the season, but Guillermo del Toro seemed positively jolly when I spoke to him on December 15, 2006. PAN’S LABYRINTH was earning well-deserved Oscar(tm) buzz, and had won the San Francisco Film Critic’s Circle award for Best Foreign Language Film just four days before. The obvious place for me to start, having seen all his films over the years, was with a question about happy endings. We moved on to the subconscious, recurring motifs, and how to spot a criminal. His answers were, like the man himself, as complex as his films, but much, much funnier.
The combination of war and her mother’s remarriage to a Fascist captain proves to be too much for Ofelia, the heroine of Gullermo del Toro’s arresting fable of power and powerlessness. The time is 1944, the place is northern Spain, but the landscape is that of the imagination and, in del Toro’s hands, that is a location as frightening as any battle between the local partisans and the army trying the quell the last vestiges of the Spanish Civil War.Though PAN’S LABYRINTH deals in magic and fantasy, the emotions it stirs and with which it toys are all too real. Insects may or may not transmute into fairies, but death is real and the constant companion of everyone in the story. Using metaphor, del Toro brings that feeling home in a way that makes a more straightforward, nonfantastic method of telling a morality tale seem hopelessly ineffectual. This is a magnificent piece of filmmaking with many levels, but one that speaks nonetheless, directly to the heart, sometimes like a dagger.