Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

Director Guillermo del Toro creates a dark, surreal fairy tale with Pan's Labyrinth, set in the midst of World War II in fascist-controlled Spain. The film finds a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), traveling with her pregnant mother to an old mill deep in the woods. There they meet Ofelia's stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a military officer charged with rooting out the resistance fighters hiding in the surrounding forest. Out exploring, Ofelia soon comes across the remnants of a labyrinth made of stone, which the housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) tells her has been there forever.

One night, Ofelia is lured into the labyrinth by a fairy, and at the centre of the maze she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who tells Ofelia that she is actually the reincarnation of a princess, and charges her with three tasks, each more threatening than the last, before she can claim her rightful place as a princess of the underworld.

del Toro balances this fanciful but dark fairy tale world against the cruel and vicious real world, where Captain Vidal brutally tortures and kills in his quest to hunt down the rebels. All this gives Ofelia even more of an impetus to escape to the fantasy world to remove herself from the sadness around her.

The film does not shy away from the brutality of war and death and destruction; even the fairy tale world is full of dangers. The dual threads of the film help to elevate it above what could have been a simple children's story and allow it to comment on themes such as the loss of innocence, sacrifice, life, death, and love. This is a masterful, well executed film that seamlessly blends the fantastic with the real and tells a touching and tragic story.

Director Guillermo del Toro was present and did a Q&A after the film. He was warmly received by the audience, and he was very eager to talk:

  • Toronto is his favourite festival, and the award for this festival is the audience.
  • He said the movie was a terrible endeavour, but worth it. He lost about 80 lbs. over the 2-1/2 years it took to make.
  • The film is a sister to the boy's movie of The Devil's Backbone.
  • del Toro was asked about his inspiration for all his fantastical films; when he was young, he said he always saw fauns and monsters at night. He lived in his grandmother's house, and slept in his aunt's old room. At midnight, the church bells would ring out, and then a hand, followed by a faun's face, and then a goat's leg would appear from behind the armoire, and del Toro would let out a scream, waking everyone in the house. His Catholic upbringing and its religious demons also shaped him.
  • Every two or three weeks, he and other students would go to the catacombs beneath this great Gothic church in the middle of Guadalajara, which he likened to having a pyramid in the middle of Toronto, to rehearse the oratories for the Virgin Mary. When the priest would leave, they would immediately try to see the corpses in the catacombs.
  • He also saw his first corpse at the age of 4 in an auto accident.
  • He volunteered in a mental hospital, where he met a serial killer, and every day on the way out, he would occasionally have lunch with the morgue attendant.
  • He was also exorcised by his grandmother at the age of 6.
  • All of the above contributes to his inspiration for films.
  • On similarities to or inspirations from the works of C.S. Lewis (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia), del Toro said the questioner probably made the connection because of the faun; but in del Toro's words, the faun in Narnia "was a pussy".
  • He's collected fables, art, fairy tales, first editions.
  • He also likes C.S. Lewis; but in his teenage years, his Catholic faith lapsed and Christian mythology became less personally fulfilling for him.
  • With Narnia, he couldn't get over the fact that Aslan knows he won't die; he would've liked it more had Aslan not come back.
  • del Toro likes fantasy books, but usually they are too light for his taste; darkness is a huge part of fairy tales; the tendency today is to Disney-fy everything.
  • On the children in his films; in The Devil's Backbone, the boy had originally come to read for a background part, but del Toro liked him too much to use him in that capacity. The boy had done some film work before. The boy playing the bully had done a number of films, including Secrets of the Heart, which del Toro recommends as a very beautiful movie.
  • Ivana Baquero had done some other movies in small parts, and Romasanta, which has a "bitchin'" werewolf transformation scene.
  • Baquero was a bit too old for the part as written, so del Toro rewrote the screenplay to accommodate her.
  • He looks for children who can act, as opposed to child actors, which are a "mutant species" because of their parents.
  • He looks for kids that can listen and react; he does workshops with them to teach them how to react emotionally; he learns their biographies so he can sort of blackmail them into reacting (emotional "cattle-prodding" as he calls it).
  • Baquero was great and that the film wouldn't have worked if she was too light; she couldn't have been an effective foil for Captain Vidal in that case.
  • del Toro often takes people who e-mail him into the movies with varying experiences; some of them are Play Misty for Me (referring to the woman stalking Clint Eastwood in the movie of that name), and some are pretty good.
  • He randomly selects from e-mails he gets and gives opportunities to a few who are willing and able to travel.
  • del Toro believes that if you explain a metaphor too much, it becomes a cipher and a boring part of an equation. The film does not have a closed meaning; he is open to other meanings and analyses. He doesn't know all the answers, just the ones to write the screenplay over the course of a year.
  • He layers two or three layers deep; but any deeper and they'd find him in a corner biting away at his fingernails.
  • The movie is intended as a "fallopian" fantasy, i.e. going back to the belly of the mother. The real world consists of straight lines, gold colours; the fantasy world has curved lines, blood red and "amniotic" gold colours.

Small potential spoiler below:




  • For del Toro, the metaphor of the film is that the princess is Spain, that she forgot who she was and where she came from.
  • At the end, the young generation is not going to know the name of the guy who represents the facist state.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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