Friday, December 01, 2006

Interview with Guillermo del Toro

Mythical underworld beasts clash with the real-life monsters of fascism in Guillermo del Toro’s new film. Seen through the eyes of Ofelia, a lonely young girl caught up in the brutal aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth is the most ambitious work yet by the Mexican writer- director of Cronos and Hellboy. Fusing historical drama with horror film, magical realism with political allegory, Del Toro’s eighth film is that rarest of hybrids: a fairytale for adults.

“A fable is a good way to address issues as opposed to addressing them purely as a war movie in a big, selfimportant way,” says the 42-year-old director. “To me, fascism is the moment when all your choices are removed. You are given one single choice to align to, but the idea of the fable is that choice is what makes you free. That’s a very simple parable for me, and the best way to do that was a fairytale. There was something incredibly attractive in creating a world full of creatures and monsters, but making the human characters much more monstrous than them.”

This is not the first time Del Toro has used the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop for a supernatural tale of childhood innocence. His 2001 ghost story, The Devil’s Backbone, drew on the same historical hinterland. Now a part-time resident of Madrid, the director grew up besotted with Spanish literature, cinema and comics. The civil war brought “a fascism that was agreed to be overlooked by the world”. This struck a personal chord in Mexico, where exiled film-makers such as Luis Buñuel fled Franco.

“Mexico is one of the few countries that, during the civil war period, was politically supportive of the Republican side,” Del Toro says. “Many people exiled from Spain to Mexico were extremely influential in the arts — actors, directors, production designers. Many became good friends of mine growing up. I heard things about the war that I didn’t read in For Whom the Bell Tolls, heh heh! It was not a grand adventure of macho bravado. It was a much more human, compelling, brutal and small drama.”
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