Pan's Labyrinth is a 2006 Spanish fantasy drama. Set in 1944 in Spain's post-civil war era, Pan's Labyrinth follows the story of a young girl named Ofelia who, with her pregnant mother, moves to a rural area to live with her ruthless stepfather. The imaginative Ofelia soon gets drawn into a world of myth and fairy tales where she must fulfil a legend to escape the harsh realities of the real world.
The BBFC classified Pan's Labyrinth 15 uncut in July 2006. The category defining issues of violence and language were pretty clear cut, with some of the strongest violence being defensible within the published BBFC Guidelines of the time, due to various mitigating factors.
The Guidelines state that 'violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury'. In applying these Guidelines, the BBFC always considers the wider context including the genre of the film and the context in which issues arise. In the case of Pan's Labyrinth, BBFC Examiners viewing the film recognised that this was a fantasy fiction set in a mythical world, with elements of realism included to reflect the horror of a fascist regime.
BBFC Examiners described the violence as quite callous with an injection of gritty realism. Two scenes in particular stood out. The scene in which an army captain smashes the face of a farmer is both shocking and impactful. Examiners described this as a borderline 15/18 moment. However, the examining team also cited several mitigations in their reports. They noted much of the violence is impressionistic. Viewers get the impression that they have seen heavy blows, though many are just implied, with characters delivering them hard but below frame. Also, the scene is relatively dark, meaning shadows mask some of the stronger process detail. They also acknowledged that the scene was important narratively, as it serves to illustrate the brutality of the captain and the repression of the regime he represents.
Similarly, the scene where a character catches a rebel, tying him up and torturing him, is tense and impactful, as it builds towards strong violence. The violence itself however is very brief, and there is no dwelling on detail; we see the captain raise and swipe the hammer before the scene cuts to black leaving us only with the sound of the impact. The following scene in which we see a mutilated hand, and a bloodied, bruised and swollen face, again implies strong violence rather than explicitly showing it.
The various shootings that take place are relatively brief and serve to reflect the horror of the army's behaviour rather than to emphasise pain and injury. Taking these factors into consideration the Examiners felt that what is actually seen, rather than implied, did not constitute the 'strongest gory images' which are unlikely to be acceptable at 15.
Examiners compared the strength of the violence to that seen in Steven Spielberg's war film Saving Private Ryan (a film also rated 15 in 1998). They noted that whilst the violence in Pan's Labyrinth doesn't quite reach the levels within Saving Private Ryan both films offer viewers over the age of 15 an opportunity to learn about the horrors of war whilst not having it glorified.
There are several uses of strong language which immediately took the film up to 15. Whilst infrequent strong language is permitted at 12A, the frequency precluded this rating.
Other considerations noted by Examiners in their reports were threat and horror, and a chase scene involving a monster, all of which they could confidently rate at the 15 determined by the language and violence.
Some viewers found the torture scenes too strong for 15, and wrote in to the BBFC to complain. In the BBFC's 2007 Annual Report we noted that Pan's Labyrinth did attract significant numbers of complaints and, alongside The Last King of Scotland, was one of a group of films released that year in which scenes of torture provoked comment.
Neither film received adverse press coverage. Both films were classified ‘15’, and dealt seriously with issues of political oppression and human rights violation. The scenes of torture were embedded in the narrative of each work, and illustrated the brutality of the Amin and Franco regimes respectively. The Consumer Advice for each work noted that they contained ‘strong violence’.
You can read BBFC Annual Reports from other years here.