A woman named Grace retires with her two children to a mansion on Jersey, towards the end of the Second World War, where she's waiting for her husband to come back from battle. The children have a disease which means they cannot be touched by direct sunlight without being hurt in some way. They will live alone there with oppressive, strange and almost religious rules, until she needs to hire a group of servants for them. Their arrival will accidentally begin to break the rules with unexpected consequences. Written by
Grace says the house does not have electricity. However, when Anne is standing and reciting to her mother as punishment, the table to the left of Anne has a statue of a horse on it which is clearly backlit by the white light of an electric bulb. In the following shots as Anne and Grace argue about Anne's forgiveness, the light is gone. See more »
Now children, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin... This story started many thousands of years ago, and it was all over in just 7 days. All that long long time ago, none of the things we can see now, the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the animals and plants, not a single one existed. Only God existed. And so only he could have created them. And he did.
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Before the opening credits or music begin, we hear Grace's voice over a black screen; she says (in the manner of a mother about to tell a bedtime story), "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." See more »
Alejandro Amenábar is a very young and talented director, born in Chile and raised in Spain. He revolutionized Spanish cinema when he arrived on the scene with Thesis, at only 24 years of age. The came Abre los ojos, a very powerful second film that immediately put him aside some of the leading directors there, like Pedro Almodóvar, Carlos Saura, or Fernando Trueba. The others is only his third film and you can now see a hint of who may become one of the best around in a couple of years (he's only 29).
The best comparison I can make of this film is to a piece of clockwork. Precise, exact, nothing is gratuitous or excessive.... What a subtle charm this film works on you as a spectator. The screenplay is one of the best of this genre I have seen in the last few years, very carefully revised and misleading, yet at the end everything makes perfect sense, not the mention on the second time you watch it.
It is true that many of the film's features and details may be traced to classic films of the genre, but there is nothing wrong with that. The director himself said it was an homage to directors like Alfred Hitchcock (to whom he has been compared somewhat prematurely.... he may reach such height but he still has a long road to walk). That is one of the great things about the film; it takes the best of the genre, the best that has been made by the best directors... it's a film lover's delight.
I had never thought Nicole Kidman could have been at the height of the project, as I really have never considered her a great actress. All I can say is I am still dumbfounded by her extraordinary performance... really, a large percentage of the film's success can be related to her. Sober and discreet when needed, yet grand all the same... It does remind some of the most elegant names of classic Hollywood cinema like the Bette Davis of All about Eve or the Katharine Hepburn of The African queen. But it would be really selfish to give her all the credit when she was supported by an extraordinary cast. Fionnula Flanagan (the sweet old lady from Waking Ned Devine) is trully magnificent as the governess, Mrs. Mills, and very surprising performances of a mute and an old gardener are given by Elaine Cassidy and Eric Sykes. The children (Alakina Mann and James Bentley) are also fantastic.
Finally, I cannot but mention the crew of the film. It is even a more fantastic job when you consider that the film (many people don't realize this) is chiefly a Spanish production. The production design by Benjamín Fernández and specially the cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe are extraordinary. Just as in the best painting of figures like Goya or Rembrandt, light and shadow reveal the objects and the people.
I do not hesitate to say that this is really one of the best films of the year 2001. I am still waiting to watch Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, La stanza del figlio, The shipping news, The hours and Italiensk for begyndere, but I know it will remain amongst those at the top. A 10/10 is really fair for a film that has it all, a perfect machinery that arrives at a time when we seriously need intelligent films and not blockbuster deceptions. I can only say I hope its director won't jump to Hollywood in search of big-time projects that waste his potential.
It is a film to feast on.. to savour, to enjoy, to remember....
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