The Orphanage In Theaters
A woman discovers dark secrets hidden within her cherished childhood home in the supernatural drama "The Orphanage," the feature film debut of acclaimed young Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona. A superbly atmospheric and emotionally powerful tale of love, loss and guilt, "The Orphanage" is the first film ever to be presented by Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker ("Pan's Labyrinth") Guillermo del Toro, who also produced.
Will this, "The Orphanage," also a Spanish film (with English subtitles) be so lucky at the 2008 Oscars? Stay tuned! We've seen it and think it has a great chance at the 2008 Golden Globes and 2008 Academy Awards.
"The Orphanage" - At an orphanage by the sea, a little girl named Laura has spent the best years of her childhood nurtured by an affectionate staff and surrounded by other orphans whom she loves like brothers and sisters. Laura is adored by them in return, and the uniformed boys and girls happily trail her onto the property’s front lawn to play their favorite games. When the day arrives for 7-year-old Laura to leave with her new parents, the staff of the Good Shepherd Orphanage delays breaking the news until the last possible moment. They know the separation will be painful for everyone, and that Laura’s friends will miss her terribly.
Thirty years later, Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the stately manor house that holds such a special place in her heart. The orphanage was abandoned years ago; Laura and her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) plan to re-open it as a center for sick and disabled children. It will be a place where boys and girls -- including the couple’s beloved seven-year-old Simón (Roger Príncep) -- can play freely in the open air, enjoying the sunshine and the nearby beach.
In its years of solitude, however, the orphanage has acquired a haunted, unhappy air. Simón, an inquisitive boy with a vivid imagination, is initially frightened by his new house and worries about the safety of his two imaginary friends, Watson and Pepe. Laura patiently reassures her son, sharing her own rosy memories of the Good Shepherd Orphanage. Thus calmed, Simón begins to explore the building and its environs. After playing in a surf-slicked beach cove one day, Simón announces that he has befriended a little boy. Like his other playmates, his new friend, Tómas, appears only to him.
Simón’s circle of unseen friends quickly expands to include five more boys and girls, who tell cryptic stories and engage him in elaborate games that carry a suggestion of the sinister. Troubled, Laura allows herself to get sucked into her son’s eerie world, which seems to resonate with a far-away and disturbing echo of her own childhood experiences.
As the opening day of the children’s center approaches, tension grows among the family. Simón wants only to play with his invisible friends, frustrating his parents. But while Carlos believes he is merely acting out to get their attention, Laura suspects that her son’s behavior is tied to something deeper and darker concealed within the house’s history. Then, the unthinkable: while parents and children enjoy games and sweets at center’s opening party, Simón insists on playing in his own private world … and disappears.
Convinced that her family’s survival is at stake, Laura sets out to learn what happened at the orphanage after she left. To the alarm of those she loves in the here and now, Laura plunges headlong into the past -- and into an isolated netherworld where the dead reach out to the living.
STARRING: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin, Montserrat Carulla, Mabel Rivera, Andrés Gertrúdix
DIRECTOR: Juan Antonio Bayona
RATING: R (For language, violence and adult situations)
LANGUAGE: Spanish, with English Subtitles
Wild About Movies Grade: A+
Behind The Scenes
INTRODUCTION by GUILLERMO DEL TORO
I’ve known Juan Antonio Bayona since 1992, and have followed his career since its beginning. I’ve always admired him as a director of short films such as MY HOLIDAYS and THE SPONGE MAN, and a considerable number of wild and wonderful videoclips. His talent destined him to direct feature films. Thus, producing "The Orphanage" was merely a way for me to answer the obvious. Now that I have seen the movie, I know it was worthwhile.
During my career in movies, I have received many scripts, probably because I have always been interested in the work of young directors. Many of them have asked for my opinion on their work, or have asked me for some advice. Unfortunately, it is not often that one finds a good screenplay. Of course, many of them are peppered with touches of talent, but most of them almost never give the impression that it is urgent to turn them into feature films. When I read "The Orphanage" I immediately knew that I had found an exception.
I’ve been reading screenplays for a while, around 15 years. And I have never, ever read a screenplay that I liked as much as I liked Sergio G. Sánchez’s script for "The Orphanage." From the little bit I knew about it, I imagined it to be a well-done genre film rather than original. That was far from the truth. After reading only a few pages, I realized that Sánchez’s screenplay was not a mere fancy repeat of the classic genre panoply: haunted houses, ghosts and parallel universes. The movie had a particular depth.
"The Orphanage" is more than a mere suspenseful thriller: its rhythm is impeccable; its visual style is extraordinary. It does not rely on special effects to disturb the viewer, and it offers a very personal interpretation of the classic settings of the genre. "The Orphanage" also has an unusual emotional content for a movie of this kind. Besides being a disturbing description of abnormal phenomena, it is one of the most beautiful stories about the pain caused by grief that I have seen recently. Bayona did not just create a story full of mystery and suspense; he has managed to make "The Orphanage" a powerful drama by polishing its characters and the links uniting them with great attention and accuracy.
Bayona did honor to Sánchez’s screenplay. As a director, he proved his mastery of the cinematographic language while showing his own personality traits. In addition, he was able to obtain unforgettable performances from his actors, especially from Belén Rueda, who radiates in a role full of courage and insight. But the most important thing is that it is obvious that Bayona enjoyed his work as much as I enjoyed watching it. Such a thing is a rare occurrence these days, believe me.
ABOUT THE SCREENPLAY
The first version of "The Orphanage" was written by Sergio G. Sánchez in 2000. It took until 2004 for the screenplay to end up in Juan Antonio Bayona’s hands and for him to agree to direct it. Meanwhile, the script was selected by the Laboratorio de Guiones SGAE Sundance, a screenplay workshop created and managed by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.
Sánchez cannot really explain why his first screenplay was a genre film: “I imagine it comes from my childhood. I ended up writing a film in the style of those I liked when I was a kid. Movies like POLTERGEIST, THE OMEN and THE DEVIL’S SEED, with which I ruined the first VCR we owned at home.”
"The Orphanage" has a lot in common with the kind of allusive, suspenseful thrillers that have all but vanished in recent years. Terror comes from ordinary things that are slowly contaminated to leave room for fear and madness. The horror described in THE ORPHANAGE does not come from the outside or from the twisted mind of a psychopath. Nor does it result from the descent of the characters into a forbidden territory. Here, the fear is born out of an idyllic environment, in the middle of an ideal family. And the fear grows in an unexpected manner threatening to completely destroy that family.
Bayona is convinced the less the viewer knows about the storyline the more he will appreciate the film. “Basically,” he states, “"The Orphanage" explores the fear of separation. All the characters live with the trauma of either a past separation or the fear of a future separation. And this fear ends up materializing in their environment, transforming the dream of an idyllic home into a devastating nightmare.”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Bringing the story of "The Orphanage" to the big screen the way Bayona envisioned it required doubling the original budget and the filming time. This is when Guillermo Del Toro came in. “I have known Guillermo for fifteen years; I met him when he came to present his first movie, CRONOS, at the Sitges Fantastic Cinema Festival. As soon as he learned of the project, he offered to co-produce the movie. After that everything became easier,” recounts Bayona.
Del Toro had long been a fan of Bayona’s work. “I always told him, ‘If you ever need help with your feature film debut, I would love to be involved,’” he remarks. “Bayona came to me and I read the screenplay -- and I was absolutely floored. I got script envy for many, many hours. Obviously, if you don’t have as solid a writer as Sergio, then you don’t have a movie. This movie depends completely on the sleight-of-hand, on how skillfully you misdirect the audience and how skillfully you keep it emotionally grounded. So to combine those two things is very hard and Sergio does it brilliantly. And I knew Bayona would deliver visually and emotionally.”
Their early discussions also covered casting. Recalls del Toro, “I said, ‘This is a first-class project. Who do you want to cast as the main character?’ And he said, ‘Belén Rueda.’ And I immediately -- immediately --knew then the project was really something I wanted to be involved with because that was casting quality. That was casting against the genre. I think that’s very important in casting a genre movie, to cast it ‘up,’ if you will. Like Deborah Kerr in THE INNOCENTS or Nicole Kidman in THE OTHERS. To really give it a top-of-the-line, absolutely amazing actress. And Bayona had it figured in his head he wanted Belén and Geraldine Chaplin. Those two ideas alone made me salivate to see the movie, because you’re talking about two grand dames of acting.”
Bayona was certain that Rueda had both the talent and the depth that the role of Laura demanded. “I needed a versatile actress,” he comments. “Belén can appear very vulnerable while she is able at the same time to convey an inner force which makes her strong. She reminds me of the heroines in James Cameron’s movies. Belén is also an amazing mother, which was a precious help when work on her character needed to be done.”
Long one of Spain’s most popular television personalities, Rueda dazzled audiences and critics alike with her feature film debut in Alejandro Amenábar’s THE SEA INSIDE. Her performance garnered numerous awards, including Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar®, the Goya. Nonetheless, playing Laura was a challenge for Rueda, who would be tackling not only the main character in a feature film, but an entirely new genre. But any apprehensions were overridden by the screenplay. “I was alone at home and I was shaking as I was reading the script -- but I could not stop reading,” Rueda recalls. “The story is captivating and does not stop surprising you. Every three or four scenes, you are disturbed, without explanation, and it forces you to rethink the story until it is over. My first impressions after I read a script are essential. When I finished reading "The Orphanage" I knew I needed to make that movie.”
Bayona describes the actress as giving herself completely to the role, both physically and emotionally. “She lost more than eighteen pounds during filming and yet did not worry about how she looked,” he reports. “The entire team was spontaneously applauding her at the end of some scenes. It was very touching. Belén has a lot in common with Laura’s character. She showed courage when accepting the role and I will eternally be grateful to her for that.”
Del Toro, too, was awed by Rueda’s performance. Says the filmmaker, “As much as I admire Bayona and everybody involved, I truly believe that the movie would not exist and would not have the quality it has was it not for the cast being so perfect. And I credit Belén with being the central mast of this ship. I believe she is the cornerstone of the emotional life of the movie.”
Happily, Bayona was able to fulfill another major casting goal when Geraldine Chaplin signed on for the role of Aurora, the spiritualist consulted by Laura. “Geraldine had a tough job,” Del Toro notes. “Geraldine is in very few scenes and her time with us was very short, but her role is incredibly extenuating. And she is fantastic.”
For the role of Laura’s skeptical but loving husband, Carlos, Bayona sought out Fernando Cayo, an acclaimed actor who made an award-winning debut in the 1999 Spanish comedy SHACKY CARMINE. Recalls Del Toro: “We needed somebody that projected reliability and this sense of reality. Here again, Juan Antonio was very clear. He said, ‘Fernando Cayo is perfect.’ We went after Fernando immediately and he gives the movie a sense of ordinary life. He brings to this crazy fable the everyday point of view.”
Supported by “IT’S ALIVE! New Talents Lab”, the production company, Rodar y Rodar gave Bayona free rein to work with his team from his ad movies and clips, who for the most part were new to the big screen. According to Rueda, “The team who worked on this movie was a combination of amazing people. Not only are they remarkable professionals but they also had this typical excitement of those people who are doing something for the first time, a quality that one should never lose. And it was contagious. There was a true alchemy among the team which I think can be felt in the movie.”
Production on "The Orphanage" began on May 15, 2006 in Llanes in the Asturias. The location was chosen because of the great diversity of its natural sets. There were some long beaches, some mysterious caves, some cliffs, some extended desolate coasts, some forests, some mountains, and even a small village in the middle of which a snow storm needed to be simulated in the middle of August. But most importantly, the production team found in Llanes its most important set: the Partarríu manor, the building used as the old orphanage in the movie.
“I was not looking for a huge manor full of endless corridors like in the movie THE SHINING,” explains Bayona. “I wanted a smaller place, more minimalist, but with a size sufficient enough for the story to be credible.” The Partarríu manor possessed that quality. It is an old colonial house from the end of the 19th century, with an aspect of mystery. The house does not appear very big at first glance but the fact that its facades are very different from one another gives the feeling that the house continuously changes.
However, the director had in mind some very complex camera moves, which required the interiors of the house to be rebuilt inside a film studio. Bayona explains: “I was bombarded with images from old horror movies such as THE INNOCENTS by Jack Clayton and THE HAUNTING by Robert Wise. Thus, I needed to do it the old- fashioned way: in a film studio. Our approach was very ambitious. Everything had to be prepared down to the minor details. One can only achieve this on a soundstage.”
In order to reach this degree of precision, the entire movie needed to be visualized in advance. Thousands of sketches, story-boards and design ideas were drawn before the filming. The entire set was reproduced in the form of a three-dimension graph in which the cameraman could position his camera before going to the set, and this allowed the creation of animations of the most complex sequences.
After four weeks in Llanes, the team moved to Barcelona to wrap-up the last ten weeks of filming. Thus, more than 80% of the movie was filmed on movie sets of more than 11,000 square feet in a big factory. The orphanage’s bedrooms were recreated, as well as most of the other interiors seen in the movie.