Guillermo del Toro’s sublime fantasy-adventure Pan’s Labyrinth and Victor Erice’s beguilingly abstract The Spirit of the Beehive will be screening side-by-side at the Belcourt this week. It’s an apt pairing, and not just because both tell stories set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, featuring children as the protagonists. Del Toro has gone on record as calling The Spirit of the Beehive one of his favorite films, and Erice’s delicate version of magical realism—in which two young girls in Franco’s Spain become obsessed with Frankenstein and begin experimenting with the barrier between “life” and “death”—is blown up to a larger scale in Pan’s Labyrinth, which is all about a lonely youngster’s realization that the real world contains just as many beasts and quests and magic potions as any fairy tale.
Reached for comment on the paired films, del Toro said, “The thing is that the film by Erice is all about the most tenuous, almost intangible lines between fantasy and reality, that are only laid out by the mind of a child. In my movies, I tend to make the fantasy world manifest. Completely manifest and material. And it is my hope that the fantasy world becomes as tangible, if not more tangible, than the real world. Erice works with a very loose dramatic structure and deeply textured, deeply nuanced, deeply psychological characters. And I work with types. I work with a very complex storyline, but with types. I love to create characters that are strong and identifiable, and to put them in a really convoluted sort of adventure.”
Indeed, Pan’s Labyrinth is, first and foremost, a rousing (and gory) adventure story, given a historical context that resonates particularly at the end, in a final speech that explains why legends matter. The Spirit of the Beehive is also about what inspires people to go on in a brutal world, though in Erice’s case, it’s more the fleeting moments of beauty and awe that give hope. Del Toro puts it best: “To me, The Spirit of the Beehive is one of the most sublime movies ever made about the tragedy and pain of being a child, and at the same time the wonder of being a child. The other one being Night of the Hunter. Those films are suffused with magic and ache.”