THE ORPHANAGE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Boys will be boys, no matter what their nationality or beliefs. That thought resounded in my head throughout The Orphanage, a coming-of–age tale that is the second cinematic chapter of a planned five-part series directed by Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat.

The time is 1989 and the place is Kabul. That’s where we first meet 15-year-old movie fan and street kid Qodrat (Qodratollah Qadri) who earns his keep by selling key chains and scalping movie tickets. That is, until he is caught by the authorities and is taken to a Soviet-run detention center for juvenile delinquents. He quickly makes friends with four other newbies, including Masihullah, 14, and his red-headed nephew Fayez, 16.

Yes, the bullies among the males initially harass them, giving them a hard time about sleeping arrangements and such. But the facility is a godsend for Qodrat and his new pals, as they are provided with food, clean clothes, recreational time and most of all an education. There are also girls around as well, with one lovely who introduces how our young tight-lipped hero processes his emotions – with Bollywood-like interludes, complete with a romantic song and scenic backdrops.

While fantasy plays a part in the film, so does reality. The director of the center is played by Anwar Hashimi, whose unpublished diaries are the source for Sadat’s scripts. He is a grounded father figure who goes out of his way to show caring and kindness with his wards, while keeping the alfa-males at bay.

A trip to Moscow allows those with chess ability to compete against Russian counterparts and soccer games allow the adolescents to blow off steam. But when a tragedy occurs — one that anyone paying attention would see coming a mile away — Qodrat once again experiences his feelings through a musical tribute to a close pal. One last terrible loss happens after the Russians withdraw from Afghanistan while the Islamic State takes over the center and Qodrat envisions himself and his young cohorts as avenging action heroes.

If “The Orphanage” does anything right, it will likely leave you wanting to know more about what happens next with these characters and the turmoil-filled land they live in.

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.