THE ORPHANAGE (EL Orfanato), Spain's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) Oscar®, opens in select theaters today. It was directed by J. A. (Juan Antonio) Bayona - - directing his first feature, produced by Guillermo del Toro (PAN'S LABYRINTH), and scripted by first-timer Sergio Sanchez. LABYRINTH won three Academy Awards last February, but not for the BFLF. That honor went to Germany's THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
Belén Rueda plays Laura, a former ward of the orphanage who returns to the house 30 years later with her doctor husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their son Simon (Roger Princep). Simon does not know he is adopted, acquires an imaginary friend named Tomás, then he goes missing.
Laura goes into the cavernous areas of the house searching for her son. Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) is a paranormal who goes into a trance. She suggests Simon's disappearance may be connected to the harrowing fate of the other orphans who lived there decades ago, and also went missing.
Critics tend to refer to the movie with lines similar to: "A mystery in a well-crafted, if familiar, haunted house," "A horror story with tears," or "A tale of love and a story of horror." I'm sure there will be many more attempts to write the perfect tag line for this movie.
For anyone who knows Spanish cinema, ORPHANAGE is much more than a tag line. I've seen more than 200 Spanish-language movies, all from the best directors Spain, Mexico, and other Latin countries have produced since before the rule of Francisco Franco. The Aragonian Carlos Saura, who followed "The Master," Aragonian Luis Buñuel but has never eclipsed him, is fading, and the Catalonia Bayona will hopefully deserve a place in the line of succession. PAN'S LABYRINTH is a wonderful movie, but it isn't "Spanish" in the Spanish surrealism tradition of Buñuel and Saura. THE ORPHANGE comes darn close.
The Goya of Honor is given by Spain's Academy of Cinematic Arts and Sciences, and is considered Spain's "Oscar." This year, OPHANAGE is nominated for 14 Goya Awards, including best picture and best director of a movie based on a novel. Rueda is nominated for a Goya as best actress, Chaplin for best supporting actress, and Princep for promising young actor.
The movie did not garner the most Goya nominations. That honor went to 13 ROSES (Las trece rosas, directed by Emilio Martínez Lázaro). It received 15. Nonetheless, over a million Spaniards rushed to the theaters in the first four days of ORPHANAGE'S release in Spain.
I must point out that Spaniards normally don't rush to see a Spanish movie, period. They rush to see the latest dubbed Hollywood movie.The population of Spain is only about 40 million in contrast to the U.S, which boasts over 300 million. Therefore an initial $36 millon gross for a Spanish movie in Spain is huge in comparison.
Some viewers have suggested the movie is based on the video game "Rule of Rose." I don't know, but Bayona's best director Goya nod is for "direction based on a Novel." I do know that ORPHANGE is backed by PictureHouse, a specialty film production and releasing company that is an arm of Time Warner, the same company that backed LABYRINTH. That is huge, too.
See my 30 September post, "Spain Sends THE ORPHANAGE to Fetch BFLF Oscar®." To find the post quickly, simply type ORPHANGE in the search box above. To see all the Goya nominations on my 2008 Awards Page, click this link that goes directly to my translated list of nominations.