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After a scene or two and a cut to black, we see little hands belonging to children tearing away at wallpaper, revealing the film’s opening credits. This clawing, almost as if the children are searching for some kind of clue or treasure, is central to what the movie is all about. A huge hit at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals, The Orphanage has made a big enough splash to get a wide release around the U.S., a stunning feat for a foreign-language film. It’s technically a 2007 film (it was released earlier in New York and L.A. for Oscar qualification), so had I seen it before January 1 of this year, I would have put it on my list of the best movies of the year.

Laura, a woman who grew up in an orphanage but was eventually adopted, returns in order to live there with her husband and a child she adopted. She plans to run the old house as a home for sick children. Laura soon becomes aware her son is talking to a few too many imaginary friends, and she realizes later than we do that just because she can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real.

Based on the promotional material, one may be quick to judge this movie as a horror film. It’s much closer to a thriller, because there isn’t anything really frightening about the movie. Yes, we jump and scream and shudder, but then the movie slowly blossoms into drama territory, revealing that it’s about much more than things that go bump in the night.

Belén Rueda, a very attractive older woman like a Spanish Isabelle Huppert, is phenomenal in her role as Laura, one of the strongest female characters to show up on the screen in some time. Even Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter, is surprisingly human in her part as a medium who visits the orphanage to help Laura find clues about the mystery involving the home.

What’s especially touching about the movie is that for Laura (and us), there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We’re only afraid because the movie presents the story at first as if we should be scared, because Laura is too. By the end, the movie we’re not afraid anymore, and neither is Laura. Really, it’s beautiful.

It would be a pity if this movie doesn’t at least garner a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars because The Orphanage deserves to win; it’s the best foreign-language film from last year that I’ve seen. (Note: I’m still waiting dying to see Persepolis.)

Rating: 9/10


One Comment

  1. Very nice review…I love this movie about those things that can’t be seen but real…speaking of an imaginary friend actually that is common to a kid just like me when I was a kid…my brother laugh me now at my age whenever he remember those times that I am so weird…

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