By Jonathan Stryker

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Dec 20, 2007, 2:57 am

The most amazing thing about the Spanish language film THE ORPHANAGE is the fact it even got made in the first place.  Astonishingly directed by 32 year-old newcomer Juan Antonia Bayona who previously directed shorts and videos, the film is the brainchild of screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez who wrote the film over ten years ago and was told by most studios that it was completely unfilmable, detailing the issues they had with the script and it's ambiguous nature, and the fact that it was an improbable mixture of fairy tales and horror that would ultimately fail as a product of cinema.  Today the film received 14 Goya Award nominations, the Spanish equivalent of America's Oscars.  As screenwriter William Goldman famously said, No one knows anything.  Fortunately, Bayona became involved and told his friend Guillermo del Toro who instantly loved the idea of taking PETER PAN and turning it on it's head: they've created a deeply moving story about a woman who grows up in an orphanage and returns to the building as an adult, purchasing it with her husband and caring for roughly five sick and parentless children.  The lead character, Laura, is played brilliantly by actress Belén Rueda, best known for the Alejandro Amenábar film THE SEA INSIDE. As the mother of the adopted eight year-old son Simón (Roger Príncep), she and her husband Carlo (Fernando Cayo) strive to keep the fact that Simón is adopted and HIV positive from him.  Simón constantly wants to play a game with her, and he eventually comes to find out the truth about himself through this game.  The motif of play recurs throughout the film which possesses (pardon the pun) supernatural underpinnings once Simón inexplicably disappears at a party at his house.  Nearly a year passes as his parents grapple to understand how a young boy can seemingly disappear without a trace.  The waters near their immense abode harbor no clues, and the grief-stricken couple is forced to deal with the fact that their child may never be found.  The film owes a great debt to THE INNOCENTS, THE HAUNTING, THE CHANGELING, THE OTHERS, and even DON'T LOOK NOW comes to mind.  To divulge anything further would compromise a unique viewing experience. 

The film, shot in 2.35:1, is gorgeous and creepy, with beautiful cinematography by Óscar Faura.  The lustrous score by Fernando Velázquez is alternatively playful, elegiac, hopeful and ominous.  THE ORPHANAGE makes a case for as a film that needs to be seen in a theater.  Go see it!


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