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Oct 31 2016

The Furniture: Feasts of Flesh in Pan's Labyrinth

"The Furniture"our weekly series on Production Design.Here'sDaniel Walber

Pan's Labyrinth,like most of Guillermo del Toro's films,is busy with visual imagination.There are monsters and fairies,though it's not always certain which is which.There are dramatic colors and haunted shadows,which push even the more terrestrial sequences toward the fantastical.And there are little flourishes,not all of them thanks to the digital effects team.

In fact,physicality is among the film's greatest strengths.Sets were built for both Ofelia's dream world and the all-too-real Spanish Civil War narrative that frames them.Del Toro doesn't rely on either digital backgrounds or pre-existing locations.Instead,he leans on the uncanny power of tangible design,like these Harryhausen-like models that stand in for an underground kingdom.

By pushing the crafts of costume,makeup and design to their fullest potential,del Toro creates a heightened reality in which metaphor becomes much more visceral and bold.The work of production designer Eugenio Caballero (The Limits of Control) and set decorator Pilar Revuelta (Bad Education) is an essential component of this horror parable of Fascism.

Their work is extraordinary,from the stark reds and golds of the underground palace to the dark angularity of the mill.But despite the breadth of their triumph,one scene still sticks out ten years after the film's release.Beneath the earth,through a magic door of Ofelia's making and down a sinister arcade,lurks the Pale Man.
That said,to really understand what is going on in this scene you have to start a little bit earlier.A bit earlier,the malevolent Captain Vidal holds a dinner party for the important right-wing members of the rural community.They gather around the table in his honor,as he introduces the government's new rationing policy and discusses the threat of the last partisans.
The warmth of the light,the red of the wine and the fireplace recur in the Pale Man's lair.Ofelia's magical fantasies are her way of dealing with the traumatic developments in her life.It follows that this malevolent,towering monster stands in for the new father she does not want.He sees with his hands,driven by the stubborn violence that impairs his ability to see the hidden rebels in his own house.He hungers for blood.

Time and again,Pan's Labyrinthfeatures food as a source of power.Ofelia slays the toad by feeding him stones,removing his toxins from the fig tree that it may once again bear fruit.Vidal,as a representative of the Fascist government,consolidates control over the area by issuing ration cards to its residents.By becoming their only source of food,he takes control.

The Pale Man is the most visceral representation of this consumption.His menu is a juicy one.There are grapes and pomegranates,fruits that burst with red liquid.There is a succulent ham with cherries and pineapple,what appears to be bright red caviar and deep red jello.These dishes all suggest the taste of blood,made more dangerous by the threat of devouring should Ofelia eat a single grape.
The suggestion of the food is made explicit by the ceiling,where frescoes depict the Pale Man cooking and eating children.Their design evokes the decorative art of ancient Rome,illustrations that connect this particular horror to the era of the god Pan.The only thing missing is a diabolical vomitorium.

Not that any of this is really about ancient Rome.It's not exactly about Ofelia either,though she is the lens through which we see both the blunt violence of Vidal and the obscure horror of the imaginary underworld.The Pale Man contributes to del Toro's larger metaphorical mission,which also stretches acrossThe Devil's Backbone.These sibling films capture the psychological and spiritual legacy of 20th century Fascism.

This context ignites the sequence's most upsetting detail,one which might otherwise pass by unnoticed.The only concrete evidence of the Pale Man's prior victims is a pile of shoes.It's a brutal reminder of the real-life terror happening across Europe,even as Ofelia herself falls to the hands of her own Fascist step-father.

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Reader Comments (2)

Del Toro's films are alway visually dazzling

October 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

del Toro's films always had amazing art direction and he gets the best production designers as they're just top notch and why I love watching his films.

October 31,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

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