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Feature: Pan's Labyrinth

Getting a grip

Director Guillermo Del Toro tells why his new film is his most personal work to date

Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the finest Horror Fantasy films ever made and the Mexican-born director’s masterpiece. His grim spin on Alice in Wonderland, weaving entrancing metaphor through political allegory with stunning brilliance, was given a 25-minute standing ovation at the 2006 Cannes Festival. Del Toro was delighted with the response. “I wanted my ‘dark fairytale’ to be entertaining, freaky and make you cry. I work in a genre most people don’t take seriously. But I try to imbue everything I do with meaning, from the pulp of Hellboy to the monstrosity of Cronos. It has so much significance for me because I wrote it based on the intimate moments I had with my grandmother when she’d tell me bedtime stories. So it’s the one film of mine I like the most by a long mile because it represents a piece of my soul”

Set, like his other Spanish-language feature The Devil’s Backbone, at the end of General Franco’s Civil War in 1944, the $15 million production stars Ivana Baquero as Ofelia, who seeks refuge in a mysterious maze where a magical faun (Doug Jones) sets her three perilous tasks. “The labyrinth is a metaphor for Spain in transition”, he explains. “For me fascism represents the ultimate horror – it’s the perfect subject for a fairytale for adults. Fascism is above all a form of the perversion of innocence, and thus of childhood, representing the death of the soul as it forces you to make harrowing choices. So the real monster is Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), Ofelia’s wicked stepfather. He’s a real monster compared to those in the labyrinth.”

He continues, “Ofelia’s retreat into her labyrinth fantasy world helps her cope with the awful realities of her existence, not just Vidal but her ill, pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) too. The tasks she’s given by the faun represent the symbolic journey back to her mother’s womb, heaven, home. I mean, the tunnel into the withered tree, and the giant toad she must defeat underneath, aren’t exactly subtle motifs are they? But the best way of addressing serious issues is by parable because the form allows you to make assertions about abstract subjects like responsibility, choice and innocence. Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl was a key inspiration. She lights her last match, sees a huge banquet and then dies. My final image is of a flower blooming. That’s saying if you are true to your soul and imagination, a small trace of your time in the world will stay behind. It’s the overall theme of the movie.”

Del Toro is certainly leaving major traces of his time spent behind the independent camera. He adds, “Pan’s Labyrinth represents two years of my life and haven’t made a penny from it. I ploughed back my entire fee to get it finished in the correct way I wanted. Percentages of my deferred fees for Mimic and Hellboy went into their production too. It drives my wife crazy, but I do not want any film of mine released in a form I’m not happy with. I couldn’t bear it. Call me a fool, you are never supposed to use your own money, but I’ve watched the film over seventy times now and I always cry at the scenes I made richer because I made sure they were done properly.”

by Alan Jones

Read the full interview in
Shivers #130

Photo © Warner Bros Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #130
November - Bumper 2006
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