Pan’s Labyrinth ( El laberinto del fauno) written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (2006)

This Spanish language film passed me by when it first came out and I chanced upon now via a trailer on the DVD of  David Lynch’s ‘Inland Empire’.

The tenuous Lynch connection together with the universal critical acclaim heaped on the movie at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes convinced me it was something I should see. I was not wrong.

Translating the Spanish title to Pan instead of the less familiar English word ‘faun’ is not entirely accurate. A faun is a forest or nature god of Roman mythology – half human, half goat – while Pan is a specific figure in Greek mythology and religion.

The faun in this movie has a goat’s face but the tree-like body. It is an ambiguous figure that could be benevolent yet also has similarities with the devil.

The movie poster is misleading in that it makes it look like a straight fantasy movie for teenagers. Del Toro does use predominantly low shots to give a child’s eye view  and the protagonist is an 11 year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) but this is far from being a film just for kids.

The story takes place 5 years after the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939 but with the rebel forces opposed to Franco still challenging the fascist leadership.

Ofelia’s stepfather Captain Vidal is cruel and ruthless towards the rebels but equally the labyrinth offers no place of refuge. The real world is full of war and brutality but the fantasy world too has its own threats, especially in the gruesome shape of the child-eating Pale Man monster Ofelia encounters and narrowly escapes from.

Del Toro says that he finds dark fantasy scarier than straight horror and exploits this to the full in this movie.

As in Grimm’s fairy tales the connection between the real and imaginary worlds is ever present. It offers no glib reassurances or conventional moralising. Death is ever present and the choice between obedience and opposition is presented as one that causes conflict both on a domestic on a wider political level.

A great movie.