Pan’s Labyrinth — Revisiting Guillermo del Toro’s Dark Fairytale

Sonya Alexander
Nov 24, 2017 · 5 min read

“There is no recollection which time does not put an end to, and no pain which death does not remove.”― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

On October 30, 2017 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screened Guillermo del Toro’s magical realism masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth as part of its “From Latin America to Hollywood” series. This was the fifth film screened for the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA , a program that celebrates Latin American and Latino art’s relationship and “dialogue” with Los Angeles. The audience was diverse in age and rapt with attention throughout the captivating film. Running an hour and fifty-eight minutes, the film remains an enchanting journey through a child’s eyes, a journey through pain, fear, hate and love.

The film was released in 2006 and won 3 Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Makeup. It remains the 5th highest grossing foreign film of all time. Upon revisiting the film, it hasn’t lost its magic and has stood the test of time. What elements make a film a classic, a work of art forever etched in the memories of viewers? There are certain formulas for creating genre archetypes and del Toro seems to have mastered using a few of the ingredients.

There are certain themes that are the foundations of del Toro’s films and he’s been able to build a sturdy universes from all of the them. Some of the themes are: being different is beautiful, man can be a monster and love is timeless. Most of his films are set in the past and often have ghosts. He uses ghosts as a metaphor for the past and has said, “People are haunted by their histories and have to exorcise their memories in order to live complete lives.” This certainly holds true for Pan’s Labyrinth, which is set during the Spanish Civil War and offers a labyrinthine perspective on war, loyalty, love, dreams and death. He often associates sleep and death, thereby creating a puzzle for the viewer. Is what’s happening real or the character’s fantasy? His next film is The Shape of Water, which opens on December 1 in New York and December 8, 2017 in other cities and promises to be a deep dive into an exploration of the macabre, the past and what makes someone human.

After the screening, there was a Q&A with members of the Pan’s Labyrinth cast and crew: Bertha Navarro (producer), Guillermo Navarro (cinematographer), Doug Jones (actor) and Ivana Baquero (actress). The Frame’s John Horn hosted the question and answer session, which lasted about 30 minutes and was full of interesting nuggets of information.

On what the film represented to Latino filmmakers in the United States:

Bertha Navarro: Well, the film was shown all over the world. Its presence was very important. I think it’s a classic now. The opportunity to make this film was so important in my life. It’s there, so I hope new generations can see it.

How images from Guillermo del Toro’s notebooks were translated to a language for film:

Guillermo Navarro: The notebook is like a portal and is really conceptual. It’s nothing to do with storyboarding. They’re images that somehow we know are going to be part of that universe. The spaces, the symbols…material that’s like clay you have to work with. One thing that was very important for us in this movie was that from the get-go we had to bring the audience into a comfortable space where that parallel universe was familiar…we could just step in and out of it. For that we had to build a visual language where the girl, Ophelia, could easily walk in and out of that parallel world. We were able to build bridges. We had to take the risk of doing things that were artificial in a way, but that allowed all of this craziness to belong.

On first meeting and auditioning for Guillermo del Toro:

credit: Paul Hebert / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Ivana Baquero (Ophelia): The movie changed my life, it opened so many doors. I remember that first time meeting him. I had started acting at the age of eight. When I was eleven, I got a manager for the first time. He was the one who got me the audition for Pan’s Labyrinth. I remember going in with the sides and Guillermo said he wanted me to do another scene and quickly memorize it. I did it and he enjoyed it. I got a call back and went in again to do a pretty emotional scene. He enjoyed it. I remember his wife was there and she was bawling her eyes out. He came up to me and offered me the role that day, with the script in his hand. It was the beginning of a very magical journey for me.

On the processes for becoming Fauno and Pale Man:

Doug Jones: Guillermo never tells me how long it’s going to take…I have to find out on the day! (laughs) The Faun took me about five hours to get into makeup and the Pale Man was about six hours a day. I only got a couple of notes from del Toro about the Faun. He said, ‘Dougie, I want you to study the back-end of barn animals. And, they shake flies off.’ Like cows…goats…how do their hoofs meet the ground? The other note that he gave me was that the Faun would be aging backwards. If you notice, every time you see him, he gets prettier and prettier…his horns become kind of auburn-colored, his horns grow back, his eyes clear up as the movie progresses because little Ophelia starts believing in me again and in our world, that strengthens the whole underworld.

On making the film as an independent Spanish film shot in Spain:

BN: I think the story was really in Spanish. Guillermo and I did these three films together, The Devil’s Backbone, Chronos and Pan’s Labyrinth, and all were told through the eyes of a child. I also think that’s the child within Guillermo. He has saved this child to create these worlds. This is an authentic Spanish film.

Sonya Alexander

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Freelance Writer