The Orphanage (El Orfanato).

Starring Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu, Song Fang. Directed by Hou Hsiao Hsien.
Running Time: 110 mins.
Rated: Rated PG (mild coarse language),
The final credits suggest that this is a homage to Albert Lamorisse and his beautiful 1956 film, The Red Balloon. While a red balloon does fly over the city of Paris in this contemporary tale - as a guardian, as a friend or, simply, a movie icon - this film has little to do with 1956 in tone or plot. Yes, there is a young boy, but it is the story of him and his mother and the ups and down of living in Paris (or most places) today.

The film requires a strong suspension of disbelief. It also requires a sensibility that delights in staying focussed on small details rather than quickly getting the big picture. There is such attention to detail (sometimes a feature of the director's Taiwanese films) that scenes of minutiae go on and on - and the prolongation is itself prolonged. We are present for a long piano lesson. We watch little Simon play pinball at some length and his new Chinese nanny, Song, filming him. There is some dynamic in the structure of this tale of mother and son and nanny but it is meanderingly episodic. Those who want a quick fix or are happy with intuitions about the big picture will need a lot of patience.

The distinctive performance of a blonde Juliette Binoche must be praised. At times she is all nerves and clatter. She has moments of sheer delight in her son. She is a voice for a marionette play based on Chinese legends which gives rise to quite some vocal versatility. The boy, Simon Iteanu, is a natural and he is centre screen for much of the time.

We have a Taiwanese director who is looking at Paris through magical eyes while bringing his own perceptions about the difficulties of contemporary life everywhere.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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