Last night I watched the DVD of Pan's Labyrinth, which some have called the only great film of the 21st Century. This is Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece. Set in 1944 in Spain, it tells the story of a Falangist Captain Vidal whose mission is to wipe out the remaining Republican irregulars (he would call them terrorists) holed up in the mountains. He summons his very pregnant wife to the military camp together with his 10 year old step daughter, Ofelia.
The film explores the parallel worlds of Ofelia and Mercedes, the Captain's peasant housekeeper. Ofelia is drawn into a world of fantasy where she a lost princess is set three tasks that she must accomplish to return to her father and his kingdom. Mercedes is a spy in the camp, aiding the rebels with succor and information.
The Spanish Civil War was the war that the baddies won. Hitler's ally Franco defeated the Republicans who were a mixture of liberals, intellectuals and soviet-style communists. It was a very dirty war in which the fascists were not the only villains. Nevertheless in this story Vidal (played by comic actor Sergi Lopez)is a vicious tyrant, shooting prisoners and torturing the wounded. He sees himself as one of a ruling elite and the notion that all men are equal as laughable.
The underlying themes are those of obedience and choice. In her fantasy world Ofelia triumphs by choosing to shed her own blood rather than that of an innocent. In the real world Franco triumphed and the rebels were scattered. In the long run Spain has become a democracy and Franco is a hated figure. Perhaps in the long run Ofelia's fantasy (or something like it) is the real world.