January 4, 2008

Guillermo del Toro presents The Orphanage

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who last year was nominated by his film Pan’s Labyrinth, wants you to start the year with a great scare.

That’s why he’s produced and is now presenting The Orphanage, a Spanish-language suspense film directed by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona that opens in San Diego today, Friday, January 4.

“I think that producing is like dating – but presenting is like marriage,” Del Toro said in a recent interview. “When you present a movie you really believe in it, to a degree that you are saying, ‘Allow me to introduce you to this film.’ I read the screenplay and when we met and talked about casting, I said to (director) Juan Antonio (Bayona), ‘I’m gonna go out and present it, because I really think it’s gonna be that spectacular.’ And I didn’t make my presentational credit conditional; contractually, I could never withdraw it. I felt that sure about the project from the start.”

In the supernatural drama The Orphanage, the feature film debut of acclaimed young Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, a woman discovers dark secrets hidden within her cherished childhood home in.

It is a superbly atmospheric and emotionally powerful tale of love, loss and guilt, Bayona and the gifted first-time screenwriter Sergio Sánchez deliver an elegant, shivery ghost story in the tradition of such classics as The Innocents, The Haunting, and The Others as they explore the shadowy places where human longing meets the unknown and unknowable.

Del Toro said that he decided to produce the film because of its “particular depth,” something that’s not always present in a horror/suspense film.

“From the little bit I knew about it, I imagined it to be a well-done genre film rather than original,” Del Toro said. “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.”

Anchoring the film is the fearless performance by its star, award-winning Spanish actress Belén Rueda, portraying a mother desperate to rescue her family from the nightmare into which she has unwittingly led them.

“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.”

The film is part of the new Spanish cinema being made by a new generation of filmmakers, many of whom look up to Mexican Del Toro as a mentor and inspiration.

“In Spain, we are starting to be able to compete with international movies. And this is not only on a technical level,” Bayona said. “I attended a film school, which was not a possibility offered to older Spanish directors because there were no such schools. The Orphanage is not just my first feature film. It is also the first feature film for the screenwriter, the director of photography, the film editor, the composer… I don’t know if we belong to a new wave, but I am convinced that we would not be here without those who were here before us.”

The Orphanage is a film about the fragility of life, the agony of loss and the depth of a mother’s love.

It opens today in San Diego theatres.

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