11 November 2006

El Laberinto del Fauno

Spain, 1944. It is the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. In the Pyrenees, an arrogant Nationalist officer (Capt. Vidal, a frightening Sergi Lòpez), who has established his headquarters in a remote hamlet in the forest, is ruthlessly tracking down the last remnants of the Republican forces, who are hiding in the mountains. His pregnant wife and her daughter from her previous marriage arrive at the hamlet to live with him but are kept there in near-seclusion by the insensitive officer. The girl, Ofelia, escapes the cruelty of the Civil War and of her dour stepfather through an imaginary world filled with fairies. The entrance to her fantastical world is a stone labyrinth guarded by an ambiguous faun pretending to be her servant [hence the title of the film].
Throughout the film, Capt. Vidal reveals his penchant for criminal behaviour whilst we are left wondering whether Ofelia's fantastical world is imaginary or real.
El Laberinto del Fauno's major success lies in intertwining the harsh, unglamorous reality of the Spanish Civil War with Ofelia's fantasies, even more so than in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. For me, this is really El Laberinto del Fauno's major breakthrough. Where, for instance, the Harry Potter or the Narnia stories could be set in any time, any location, El Laberinto del Fauno is inextricably linked with the terror wrought by Franco's fascist régime.
Also, Ofelia's fate is much more traumatic than Harry Potter's or than Tolkien's Hobbits' because the most horrid monster of the film, in the end, is not the faun or the Pale Man, but Capt. Vidal. And, alas, it has been proved many times in history that the vilest monsters have always been human beings.
Highly recommended (but not for children!).

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