by Brian Tallerico

One of the best films of the year is opening this weekend and you probably haven't even heard of it yet. You will. The Orphanage has already become one of the most successful films in Spanish history and, most shockingly, it was made by a first-time director and a first-time writer - Juan Antonio Bayona and Sergio Sanchez. The script was first written in 2000, but Bayona didn't get his hands on it until 2004, when he agreed to direct it.

 

After that, the script went through a workshop created and managed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute (although that may have backfired, as you'll read in this interview) and eventually drew the attention of the legendary Guillermo Del Toro, who agreed to finance the project. With elements of Polanski, Kubrick, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Devil's Seed, and even Peter Pan, The Orphanage feels familiar and yet completely new. It's an incredibly accomplished film, especially considering the two young men behind it. They sat down with me back in November to discuss the project and what it meant to them.

THE DEADBOLT Let's talk about a few of the influences. I read in the production notes that you were inspired by The Tenant and a few other films. Both on a writing level and a filmmaking level, can you discuss the cinematic influences on The Orphanage?

SERGIO G. SANCHEZ: I'm not really sure I had any cinematic influences when I was writing. My influences were more literary. One of them was Peter Pan. Basically, it was just that picture of Wendy's mother sitting by the window waiting for her child. That's the spark that ignited everything. I was thinking, it would be really interesting to tell the story of Peter Pan from the point of view of the mother. Then The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. As far as film, I think it has more to do with the way the film is made. The screenplay is like a blueprint and you could make ten different movies from it. So the cinematic references are more his ground.

JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA: The movie is a story about someone who is going back to her childhood. So, I was trying to do the same with the movie, to really let the audience go back to the stories they were afraid of as a kid. Also, the movies they saw when they were kids that they were afraid of. That kind of movie from the '70s - I remember The Innocents. I remember The Haunting. Also, I remember another Jack Clayton movie we used to talk about was Our Mother's House, which is quite a unique story that deals with horror but is beautiful and poetic at the same time. We tried to go back to those movies. We were trying to avoid the genre that focuses on excessive and too many things. We tried to focus on simplicity. That's why we have the single location and not too many characters. It's a simple story. Even the story is disappearing as much as it goes along.

SANCHEZ: As the film goes along, we're taking away the elements until it's basically just this one woman in this house alone. It's like all the major plot points get resolved like thirty minutes before the end and you get to the point where it's like "What's next?"

THE DEADBOLT: And you start to wonder if she's just going crazy. Was that always an important element? Because the simplicity adds to the fact that you're never quite sure if there's anything going on other than in her own mind. Was that always a part of it for both of you?

BAYONA: Yeah. The idea that it's a psychological story. This is a woman who doesn't know how to cope with reality. For me, the story, the first time I read the script, was about childhood and how we have to deal with responsibilities of the adult life. It was something that everybody could talk about. I was trying to work from that.

THE DEADBOLT: Sergio, on your level, when you were inspired by the Peter Pan idea, did you sit down to write a ghost story? Is that the way you framed it always? Because it's not your typical ghost story.

SANCHEZ: Again, Turn of the Screw was the model. That's something where, yes, you could think of it as a ghost story where there's this evil presence trying to threaten the lives of these children or you could think of it as being about this woman who's very sexually repressed and seeing ghosts where there aren't any ghosts to be seen. So, yeah, the frame was a ghost story, but into that we threw a lot of different stuff.

THE DEADBOLT: Juan, what first attracted you to the project when you first read it?

BAYONA: All the different possibilities that the script offered. The characters were really well-written. All the set pieces had something very appealing. At the same time, it was the emotional. The script was so intelligent and so clever. It was the perfect balance between horror and emotion. That makes the story quite unique.

SANCHEZ: That was the tough part - coming up with scenes that were scary enough but that would not detract from the other story. I put the whole story on my wall in 3x5s and there were two stacks. This is the ghost story. This is the drama. In between, was the movie itself. You take a bit from here and a bit from there.

THE DEADBOLT: When Guillermo comes on board does anything change? Is there a rewriting?

BAYONA: He was very sensitive that we were the director and writer and he was the producer. He told us about [Pedro] Almodovar, who produced Devil's Backbone, and he had an excellent experience with him. He used to tell us that Almodovar said to him once that the producer is the one who's never there when you don't need him and who's always there when you need him. He was trying to do the same thing. He was there just to protect us. He gave us a few suggestions. We took some and he was okay if we didn't take the rest.

THE DEADBOLT: Are the themes that your film has in common with Pan's Labyrinth purely coincidental?

BAYONA: Yeah, definitely. It was quite a surprise when we saw it. There is something to this idea of fairy tales and dealing with reality or fantasy or even using fantasy to understand reality. We never knew about Pan's until we saw the movie but it was a good surprise because we understood why Guillermo was so happy with our movie.

Inside "The Orphanage" with Juan Antonio Bayona and Sergio G. Sanchez Page 2

-- Brian Tallerico

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