THE ORPHANAGE – Review by Jennifer Merin

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A most compelling second feature from Afghan writer/director Shahrbanoo Sadat, The Orphanage had its first screening at Cannes Film Festival in 2019. It is the second installment in a planned cinema pentalogy that is based on the unpublished diaries of Iranian actor/writer Anwar Hashimi, who also plays a supporting character in The Orphanage. The film’s prequel, Wolf and Sheep, was also scripted by Sadat and Hashimi, and directed by Sadat. It was released in 2016 to wide critical acclaim. 

Set in Afghanistan in 1989, The Orphanage centers on a thoroughly engaging Kabul street boy, a teenager named Qodrat (Qodratollah Qadiri), who’s on his own, in survival mode, eking out a living by selling trinkets and committing petty crimes. His form of relief — and it’s his passion — is going to the movies, particularly Bollywood flicks. His life changes dramatically when he’s picked up for scalping cinema tickets and is sent to a Soviet-run juvenile detention center — known as the orphanage — where he’s housed, fed and given a primary education. He and four other new boys bond like family, sharing aspirations and sticking up for each other against the bullies/ They fall into the routine of what is actually a better and safer life for them under the guidance of a wise and sympathetic headmaster (played by Anwar Hashimi, the author of the diaries upon which the films are based). The film depicts daily life in the orphanage in verite style, but it alsp delves into Qodrat’s inner life through intriguing dreamlike sequences in Bollywood style. Then, when the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan, the Mujahideen moves in and quickly dictates and imposes a new order that turns the peaceful life at the orphanage into heartbreaking turmoil. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).