For the second time in a fortnight, fantasy and reality have merged in my consciousness, this time in the form of a movie, Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro (El Labirinto del Fauno). In it a girl, Ofelia, along with her pregnant mother, find themselves in a rural Spanish military garrison in 1944 with her stepfather- one of Franco's more sadistic captains. The girl discovers an ancient labyrinth and meets a faun who convinces her that she is the reborn princess of the underworld, and persuades her to undertake three quests to restore her to her former life. Meanwhile, her cruel stepfather battles rebel fighters as her mother deals with a difficult pregnancy.
A girl on the verge of adolescence, her dead father, the mysteries of childbirth and the reality of war all mesh seamlessly with the girl's imagined (real?) fairy-tales. The movie explores these themes, often with a brutal realism both above and below reality's surface, and the often arbitrary cruelty that exists in both places.
Fantasy is sometimes said to be a way to introduce children into the harsher realities of the world. This brilliant and disturbing work shows, in a modern historical context, just how effective these kinds of tales can be, although this is not a movie for children.