PAN'S LABYRINTH, Halloween Screening
Friday, October 31, 2014
53 Wall Street Auditorium
Introduction and Film Notes by Archer Neilson

Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro (2006) 119 mins
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Produced by Estudios Picasso, Tequila Gang, and Esperanto Filmoj
Released by Warner Bros.
Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi L
ópez, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, and Ariadna Gil

The 21st century fairy tale PAN’S LABYRINTH is widely regarded as Guillermo del Toro’s finest film. It tells the intertwined stories of Ofelia, a young girl living under the threat of her brutal stepfather in early Francoist Spain, and Princess Moanna, her mythical counterpart in search of her own lost family. Just as Ofelia moves uncritically between real and fantasy worlds, the film is marked by an ability move fluidly between different cinematic modes: realism and fantasy, horror and melodrama, art film and commercial hit. It is the second in del Toro’s planned trilogy of films set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, following the 2001 ghost story THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which also focused on children’s response to trauma. (Fans of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE should watch for that film’s two young protagonists, as they reappear as resistance fighters in PAN’S LABYRINTH.) Del Toro described this film as “an anarchic spiritual parable” in which fantasy is used not to minimize the real horrors of fascism, but to encourage viewers to resist such a system. “I didn’t want to do a fairy tale for kids that told them how to be good. I actually wanted a fairy tale that told kids how to disobey, and how important it is to be disobedient, and how important it is to be your own person.”

THE LOCATION: Del Toro has said that fantasy is as much about location as story, and this story takes place in the northwestern Spain’s heavily forested Galicia region. The film grew from del Toro’s interest in the region’s Celtic past, which he found to be largely forgotten in Spanish cinema. One of the earliest inhabited areas in the country, Galicia is known for its Paleolithic stone carvings, including numerous labyrinthine designs like those that appear throughout the film. It is the location of the ancient village of Moaña—from which Princess Moanna’s name was derived—home to an annual Celtic festival and abundant water mills like the one Captain Vidal uses as a base. Galicia was also the birthplace of Francisco Franco (who nonetheless suppressed official use of the Galician language), and was extremely important in the Spanish guerilla movement that opposed him, with more women serving as fighters and intermediaries there than in other regions of the country.

THE LOOK: From early in the film when a written history of Spain is contrasted with the spoken story of Princess Moanna, del Toro uses the tools of cinema to differentiate between the “real” and fantasy worlds he presents. The fantasy sequences are shown in warm reds and yellows, with curvilinear lines tracked through fluid camera movements. Its surfaces are covered in ornate tiles and murals, in contrast to the largely bare walls of the mill. The mill is shown through a static camera in cold blues and greys, featuring an abundance of rigid, angular lines. Del Toro has spoken of gendering the two realms stylistically, with symbols of modernity and control (clocks, weapons, uniforms) in the male-dominated mill shown in counterpoint to the copious uterine imagery Ofelia encounters on her quest. The liminal forest world of the “underground” guerillas and the labyrinth is shown in shades of green, as are Ofelia’s costumes as she works her way through her three challenges. Del Toro uses costume to tie Ofelia/ Moanna to earlier tales of young girls who leave reality for fantasy worlds, as he dresses her in versions of Alice’s pinafore dress and Dorothy’s red shoes.

DID YOU KNOW: Early in his career, del Toro worked as a special effects make-up designer, and still favors practical special effects over computer-generated imagery. Two creatures in PAN'S LABYRINTH—the faun and the pale man—are performed by del Toro regular Doug Jones in make-up that took five hours to apply, with CGI limited to parts of the creatures' legs. In his faun attire, which included eight-inch stilts and ten-pound horns, Jones towered over his co-star at seven feet tall.

Presented in the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

Last modified: 
Monday, April 10, 2023 - 2:08pm