×

Toronto Film Review: ‘Orphan’

Four actresses play a character determined to escape her past in this experimental drama from French director Arnaud des Pallières.

With:
Adèle Haenel, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Solène Rigot, Gemma Arterton, Jalil Lespert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Sergi López, Karim Leklou, Olivier Loustau.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4746516/

Known for his challenging, low-key portraits of men in search of trouble or revenge (“Parc,” “Michael Kohlhaas”), French director Arnaud des Pallières tackles a female protagonist for the first time in “Orphan,” an intriguing, narratively fractured portrait of a young woman fighting for her freedom at various stages of her life. While puzzling at first — four actresses who don’t look alike play the same character, including Adèle Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”) and Adèle Haenel (“Love at First Fight”) — “Orphan” turns out to be des Pallières’ most accessible film for general audiences, who should be seduced by his appealing cast: Gemma Arterton and Sergi López are also part of the game.

When we first meet the central character, she goes by the name of Renée, a discreet schoolteacher trying to get pregnant with her boyfriend Darius (Jalil Lespert). Her uneventful life is turned upside-down by the sudden appearance of an old acquaintance, a gorgeous and intrepid woman recently released from jail (Arterton). The ex-convict demands her “share of the loot,” which leads us to think that Renée hasn’t always been an honest civil servant and is probably wanted by the police.

Without any sort of transition, we discover a new character, an audacious teenager named Karine (Solène Rigot), who regularly runs away from home and goes from man to man (López, Olivier Loustau) to forget about a violent father (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and a gloomy adolescence in the countryside. Could she be connected to this little girl, Kiki, almost a wild child whom we see happily playing on a wasteland until her two friends suddenly disappear? But then who is the young and pretty Sandra (Exarchopoulos), who just landed in Paris to start her adult life? Fresh and reckless, she replies to an old man’s ad in the newspaper — “young girl wanted” — and thanks to him finds a job in a hippodrome where money seems to fly and temptations are everywhere.

Among France’s most fearless and ambitious directors, des Pallières builds his film like a Russian doll, daring to picture one woman and four identities in no chronological order. Viewers may be disoriented at first — but then, so is Karine-Sandra-Renée — before realizing that a patient deconstruction of the character’s past en route to understanding her original childhood trauma is actually the only way to reach the heart and soul of a woman who chose to consider herself an orphan although both of her parents are probably still alive. (A special mention to the editors — Emilie Orsini, Guillaume Lauras and the director himself — who manage to lend a sense of consistency to the film’s extremely fragmented structure.)

The film’s sometimes cruel realism arises as much from Christelle Berthevas’s partly autobiographical script as it does from “Holy Motors” DP Yves Cape’s naturalistic and unromantic cinematography. Faces are filmed so closely that the most beautiful actresses, laid bare, all become ordinary women in distress, easy to relate to, with their artificial makeup or imperfect skins. Unfortunately this stimulating quasi-documentary approach is at times weakened by flat dialogue. Still, des Pallières offers a beautifully singular insight into a dauntless woman’s mind, prepared to reinvent herself ad infinitum until she achieves absolute freedom.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Orphan'

Reviewed at Unifrance screening room, Paris, Aug. 24, 2016. (In Toronto Film Festival — Special Presentations.) Running time: 111 MIN. (Original title: “Orpheline”)

Production: (France) A Les Films Hatari, Les Films d’Ici production, in co-production with Arte France Cinéma, Rhônes Alpes Cinéma. (International sales: Le Pacte, Paris.) Producers: Michel Klein, Serge Lalou.

Crew: Director: Arnaud des Pallières. Screenplay: Christelle Berthevas, des Pallières. Camera (color): Yves Cape. Editors: Emilie Orsini, Arnaud des Pallières, Guillaume Lauras.

With: Adèle Haenel, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Solène Rigot, Gemma Arterton, Jalil Lespert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Sergi López, Karim Leklou, Olivier Loustau.

More Film

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content