orphan_01

By Aurelie Godet

Arnaud des Pallières’ visually powerful and cerebral works have kept critics intrigued and hopeful for the day that these qualities would espouse a certain narrative efficiency for which he consistently demonstrates a clear distrust. One of his weapons in this internal struggle is an irrepressible penchant for dislocation, which is all over Orphan, the tragic story of a troubled young woman told over different stages of her life. She is embodied by no less than three trendy French actresses (and a child) who are slightly cast to type but whose performances provide the main pleasure to be found in the film. Adèle “Warrior” Haenel is convincing as the older one, who changed her name in an attempt to force happiness into her life. Solène Rigot (Tonnerre) pulls it off as the teenager pushed to misbehave by a brutal father. However, Adèle Exarchopoulos’ turn as the vulnerable young adult is more problematic, forever mouth agape and overshadowed by a spectacular Gemma Arterton (fluent in French), who does much more than guest star with full-on, venomous charisma. The awkward pair is central to a scene meant to be a narrative turning point and cross-cutting tour de force, but which feels botched and confusing instead, a textbook example of the aforementioned dramatic liposuction. Des Pallières’ film is always in motion but its legs are all dry muscle, cutting emotions short. Discovering Orphan is, to be fair, a rather thrilling experience, yet despite its novelistic abundance, one’s final state of wonder cannot cover a vague yearning for what wasn’t there to be embraced.