The film has a storyline that took place in 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War that divided Spain for years; a battle between democracy and fascism during an unstable political climate. The film begins with Ofelia, a girl who believes in fairytales and magic, and her pregnant mother, Carmen, both en route to a military camp. The mother and daughter are on their way there to meet Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s stepfather who happens to be a fascist, a patriarchal, and a violent man. The mother and daughter earned a shelter in the military camp only because Carmen bears the son of Captain Vidal. The storyline follows as Captain Vidal and his men fight against the rebels, with Ofelia interacting with magical creatures and pursuing missions given by the fairies.
In first blush, the film was difficult to understand because I was not expecting a combination of fairytales and a civil war. Since there is fascism present, some scenes resonate to me and my political views, especially when Captain Vidal tortured a rebel whom he held hostage. Moreover, the military men’s pleasure in asserting their authority and their penchant for sadism and violence are highly reflective of what happens in reality. I also liked how the film explored patriarchy and misogynism. On the one hand, I found Carmen weak-willed and submissive but Mercedes, on the other hand, is a woman not to mess with despite her soft facade.
Considering her situation, heroine Ofelia does a magical escapism. I called it magical escapism simply because Ofelia’s source of solace from the harsh and violent reality is the belief that what she reads on her books are real. Ofelia, like any other person, will really try to escape or at least find a distraction if placed under the same situation. Her fairies and drive to accomplish her “missions” somehow detaches her from the civil war. When Ofelia or Princess Moanna met his father and mother in their kingdom, I felt relieved, despite knowing that all these are purely fictional in nature.
The plot is excellent and the actors fit their roles perfectly. Such eccentric plot— fairytales and war, would only work well only in my wildest dreams but it actually worked for this film. Aside from the plot and the actors, the film also has a commendable cinematography, particularly with how light and darkness were strategically used. Furthermore, the film’s mise-en-scene or its scenery or overall appearance, was simply beautiful—the military camp, the forest, Captain Vidal’s quarters, the helpers’ kitchen, and of course, the labyrinth. The film is beautiful and it’s a feast for the eyes, not exactly like The Grand Budapest Hotel, but still it has its own aesthetic and is not devoid of beauty.
Overall, the film is ironically a delight. This masterpiece hit the inner child in me and the anti-fascist and anti-patriarchy positions that I proudly bear with me. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film that everyone should watch. Again, a perfect combination of fairytales, magic, and war would only happen in my wildest dreams, but like Ofelia, I did not know that my wildest dreams can be a reality. The film is something I would like to call… a perfect storm.