- Translation: What interests me about fascism is that it is a black hole of free will. It is a system which isn’t necessarily unique, but it absolves brutality, it absolves the lack of morals and it absolves people of their own decisions. When they tell you ‘you can kill these people because they are Jews, reds or homosexuals, or whatever!’ In this world you can permit a brutal action on the base of collective advice; that is what scares me. Interview with Guillermo del Toro on 10/23/2006. 
Fear they (fascists) inject into people - 2 farmers in Pans
Not allowing you to express yourself & an expression of masculinity juxtaposed with the innocence of a child
'we were only following orders' - Nazi soldiers
absence of father figure? Masculinity is tyranny
For those with a weakness for the beautiful monsters of modern cinema, Mexican maestro Guillermo del Toro has earned a deserved reputation as the finest living exponent of fabulist film. Gregarious and personable, with an almost photographic recall of faces, he has charmed both the hardcore horror fans, who gave him a hero's welcome at London's Frightfest in August, and now the upmarket critical cognoscenti, who snapped to attention following his Palme d'Or nomination for his new film Pan's Labyrinth at Cannes in May.
- Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)
- Production year: 2006
- Countries: Latin America, Rest of the world, Spain
- Cert (UK): 15
- Runtime: 112 mins
- Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo del Toro
- Cast: Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdu, Sergi Lopez
Set against the backdrop of fascist Spain in 1944, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark fairy tale that distils his distinctive mix of fact and fantasy, poetry and politics, pain and pleasure. It's an epic, poetic vision in which the grim realities of war are matched and mirrored by a descent into an underworld populated by fearsomely beautiful monsters - a transformative, life-affirming nightmare which is, for my money, the very best film of the year.
Since the early 1990s, del Toro has divided his film-making between personal European projects (the modern vampiric chiller Cronos in 1993; the ghostly Spanish Civil War fable The Devil's Backbone in 2001) and big-budget Hollywood hits (ongoing comic-book franchises Blade II in 2002, and Hellboy in 2004). Those familiar with the guilty ghosts of The Devil's Backbone will recognise key motifs in his new fable, about a young girl's exploration of a labyrinthine underworld in Franco-era Spain.
The young heroine of Pan's Labyrinth is Ofelia, whose widowed mother, Carmen, has recently married Vidal, a vicious captain in Spain's Civil Guard, involved in policing anti-fascist Maquis resistance in the mountainous wooded northern region. Vidal's housekeeper, Mercedes, befriends Ofelia, protecting her from her stepfather's wrath while maintaining secretive connections with the Maquis. Meanwhile, Ofelia meets an alarmingly devious faun who suggests that she may be the lost princess of a beautiful and terrifying netherworld. While Mercedes attempts to help the Maquis in their struggles, Ofelia embarks on a quest that will test her true nature.
This quest involves a journey through a labyrinth, a word with which the Civil War has become intrinsically linked (think of key historical accounts such as Gerald Brenan's The Spanish Labyrinth) and which served as the 'perfect metaphor' for del Toro's endeavours.
'A maze is a place where you get lost,' he explains. 'But a labyrinth is essentially a place of transit, an ethical, moral transit to one inevitable centre. You think of the transit of Spanish society from the 1940s to the incredible explosion of the post-Franco period. The 1980s in Spain were like the 1960s in the rest of the world! In the movie, Ofelia is a "princess who forgot who she was and where she came from", who progresses through the labyrinth to emerge as a promise that gives children the chance never to know the name of their father - the fascist. It's a parable, just as The Devil's Backbone was a parable of the Spanish Civil War.
'I was also trying to uncover a common thread between the "real world" and the "imaginary world"through one of the seminal concerns of fairy tales: choice. It's something that has intrigued me since Cronos, through Hellboy and now to Pan's Labyrinth: the way your choices define you. And I thought it would be great to counterpoint an institutional lack of choice, which is fascism, with the chance to choose, which the girl takes in this movie.'
Del Toro's faun is just one of the film's menagerie of fantastical creatures and monsters, drawn from sources that range from Goya's paintings to Clive Barker's Books of Blood. Amazingly for a film that features around 300 effects shots and boasts complex creature designs, Pan's Labyrinth was completed for a mere £10m, a feat del Toro attributes to the lessons learnt on Blade II and Hellboy ('I love to play with the big toys... and to learn from them'). As always, the director sketched each character in the notebooks that are his constant companions, extraordinary documents of his mind at work and his obsessive attention to detail. Here we find the original drawings for the 'vegetable baby' which Ofelia places beneath her mother's bed, nurtured with milk and magic, and the terrifying 'pale man' whose ire she arouses by stealing from his table.
'I wanted to represent political power within the creatures,' del Toro says. 'And that particular character somehow came to represent the church and the devouring of children. The original design was just an old man who seemed to have lost a lot of weight and was covered in loose skin. Then I removed the face, so it became part of the personality of the institution. But then, what to do about the eyes? So I decided to place stigmata on the hands and shove the eyes into the stigmata. Having done that, I thought it would be great to make the fingers like peacock feathers that fluff and open. That's how that figure evolved.
'The faun proved more difficult. The idea was to make him very masculine, not aggressively so, just sinuous. I remember talking to Doug Jones [who plays both the faun and the pale man] when he first started working on the role and saying, "More Mick Jagger, less David Bowie!" I wanted the faun to have a rock star quality. Everything about the faun and his personality needed to be masculine because you had to pit the female energy of the girl against something monolithic.'
In essence, del Toro is a divided soul, a realist attuned to the strange vibrations of the supernatural, a lapsed Catholic ('not quite the same thing as an atheist') with an interest in sacrifice and redemption who turned down the chance to direct The Chronicles of Narnia because he 'wasn't interested in the lion resurrecting'. Crucially, like the artistic refugees from Franco's Spain who first inspired him, the writer-director considers himself an exile from his home country, Mexico, not least because of the 1997 kidnapping of his father, at the height of a vogue for such ransomed abductions. He was released after 72 days.
'I was 33,' el Toro recalls. 'The perfect age to be crucified! I had lived my life believing two things - that pain should not be sought, but, by the same token, it should never be avoided, because there is a lesson in facing adversity. Having gone through that experience, I can attest, in a non-masochistic way, that pain is a great teacher. I don't relish it, but I learn from it. I always say, even as an ex-Catholic, that God sends the letter, but not the dictionary. You need to forge your own dictionary.'
This willingness to confront pain and to forge his own cinematic dictionary has informed the blend of innocence and brutality that is a trademark of del Toro's phantasmagorical cinema. From the crushing addiction of Cronos, whose ageing anti-hero is reduced to licking blood from the tiled floor of a public lavatory, to the redemptive fantasy of Hellboy, whose titular demon takes an industrial grinder to the horns on his head in a bid to take control of his destiny, del Toro has returned compulsively to these twinned themes. Now in Pan's Labyrinth, which he wrote, directed and produced, he has created a Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema, a masterpiece made entirely on his own terms.
Del Toro is working within the same tradition of cinematic horror that spawned A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven's seminal reinvention of the 'classic dark fairytale', in which Freddy Krueger emerged as an 1980s incarnation of the Big Bad Wolf. 'I think that really is one of the best fairytales of any decade, because Craven understands the roots of those myths,' says del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is being promoted in America with a classic horror tagline: 'Innocence has a power that evil cannot imagine'.
That power is also self-generating. 'Pan's Labyrinth is a movie about a girl who gives birth to herself into the world she believes in,' del Toro continues. 'At that moment, it doesn't matter if her body lives or dies. And this is something I have experienced. I remember the worst experience of my life, even above the kidnapping of my father, was shooting Mimic [del Toro's first Hollywood feature, in 1997, which was severely compromised by producer interference]. Because what was happening to me and the movie was far more illogical than kidnapping, which is brutal, but at least there are rules. Now when I look at Mimic, what I see is the pain of a deeply flawed creature that could have been so beautiful.'
Pain and beauty, brutality and innocence - once again, del Toro's conversation finds a way back to the central duality of death and rebirth. 'Those things are one and the same,' he says. 'It would be a cliche to say that, because I am a Mexican, I see death in a certain way. But I have seen more than my share of corpses, certainly more than the average First World guy. I worked for months next to a morgue that I had to go through to get to work. I've seen people being shot; I've had guns put to my head; I've seen people burnt alive, stabbed, decapitated ... because Mexico is still a very violent place. So I do think that some of that element in my films comes from a Mexican sensibility.'
Like the heroine of Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro's career now seems to be at a point of rebirth and regeneration. 'Hopefully, this movie will allow me to start a new path,' he says. 'The way I see my craft, and the way I see the stories I tell, has completely changed as a result of this movie. Shooting Pan's Labyrinth was very painful, but it also became a war about me not compromising.
'I gave back my entire salary in order to get the film made the way I wanted it. I probably should have abandoned it the moment the funding fell through the first time, but I stuck with it for almost two-and-a-half years and refused to back down. It's the first time in the six movies I've directed where I've said: I'm doing this one my way, no matter what.
'Financiers ran out on me and everyone involved in my career was saying it was the biggest mistake I could make. But I'm very happy with the result. And for me, nothing will be the same again.'
· This is an edited version of an article from the December issue of Sight and Sound, on sale from Tuesday