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Spaniards flock to ‘Orphanage’

Chiller takes $8.3 mil in four days

MADRID — Breaking with Spanish films’ nightmare year at the box office, Juan Antonio Bayona’s psychological chiller “The Orphanage” grossed a first four-day Euros 5.8 million ($8.3 million) over Oct.11-14, the second best opening ever for a Spanish film.

Only Santiago Segura’s “Torrente 3,” with a first weekend $10.2 million, bettered “The Orphanage’s” first weekend $3.1 million trawl, according to Nielsen EDI, Spain.

Copy average — $23,465 from a 350 print spread — is huge for any film in Spain.

“Orphanage” also ranks as the third best opener this year, behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($12.2 million) and “Spider-Man 3” ($11.5 million).

But copy average of “Orphanage” is far better. Its haul doubled most exhibitors’ predictions, and pulverized the 2007 B.O. record a Spanish pic — $2.75 million for comedy “Cafe solo o con ellas.”

Pic is produced by Rodar y Rodar and Telecinco Cinema, with the participation of Warner Bros. in Spain. It turns on a woman (Belen Rueda) who moves to a rambling neo-Victorian mansion, which was the orphanage where she spent her childhood. Soon her infant son claims he’s playing with child ghouls.

“The direction, screenplay, art direction, cinematography, score, everything’s good, and actress Belen Rueda, who’s terrific, has great cache after her turn in ‘The Sea Inside,'” said one exhibitor.

Godfathered by Guillermo del Toro and sold by Wild Bunch, “Orphanage” was acquired at Berlin by Picturehouse for U.S. distribution, played Cannes Critics’ Week, was selected as Spain’s Oscar submission Sept. 29, and opened the Sitges fest Oct.4.

“The film’s built over time. It’s one of these perfect combinations of everybody doing everything correctly,” said Pablo Nogueroles, general manager Warner Bros. Intl. Spain.

Pic’s marketing campaign opened the film up beyond avid genre fans to wider demos by focusing posters and Telecinco’s muscular TV commercials campaign centered around Rueda.

Film’s timing was also good, opening after two relatively slow weeks of B.O. trading in Spain.

“Orphanage” marks the second success for the Esta Vivo! young talent label at Barcelona production house Rodar y Rodar. Label’s first pic, Guillem Morales’ “The Uncertain Guest,” has clinched an English remake deal with London’s Becker Intl..

“We’re very proud that this was the first feature of its director Juan Antonio Bayona, screenwriter Sergio Sanchez, composer Fernando Velazquez, d.p. Oscar Faura, editor Elena Ruiz and head of wardrobe Maria Reyes,” said Rodar partner Joaquin Padro.

It’s another triumph for Telecinco Cinema, the film production division of broadcaster Telecinco, which produced the Viggo Mortensen swashbuckler “Alatriste” (Spanish gross: $24 million) and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but also has a strong line in first-time helmers.

“We believe there’s an awful lot of young talent in Spain,” Telecinco Cinema topper Alvaro Augustin said at Sitges.

The opening is the latest pay-off for Warner Bros.’s support of local production driven by Richard Fox, exec v.p. international, and, in Europe, Simona Benzakein, WB v.p. European productions.

In Spain, where WB’s the most active studio supporting local productions, much of that backing has gone into first films.

“If we want to support established filmmakers, we have to find some of them first. We can’t rely always on established helmers,” said Benzakein.

Another WB distribbed first feature, the San Sebastian fest hit “Suso’s Tower,” a warm coming-of-ager from Tom Fernandez, bows in November, rolling off WB’s distribution deal with Spanish production house Mediapro.

Exhibitors now predict “Orphanage” will gross north of $15 million in Spain.

” ‘The Orphanage’ could mark the reconciliation of the Spanish cinema with its national public and the exhibition sector. With good films everybody responds,” said Padro.

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