Fire Starter: Our Review Of ‘Orphan’ (2016) on MUBI

Posted in What's Streaming? by - August 31, 2023
Fire Starter: Our Review Of ‘Orphan’ (2016) on MUBI

Life takes on some wild turns. Arnaud des Pallières’ Oprheline, or Orphan, takes inspiration from the life of one of its co-screenwriters, Christelle Berthevas, who is also the de Palierres’ wife, which is wild because its nihilism. In one of its scenes, Sandra (Adele Exarchopoulos), a young woman, lets an older man, Maurice (Sergi Lopez), feel her up. She’s happy because she just, through another hookup with another older man, got a job at a betting company.

Little does Sandra know that that leads to a short stint of crime. Paying for that crime is Sandra’s accomplice, Tara (Gemma Arterton). And eventually, an older version of Sandra, who goes by Renee (Adele Haenel), pays for her crime. She goes to jail to the chagrin of her oblivious but loyal husband Darius (Jalil Lespert). Oprhan uses the occasional flash forward and eventually stays at the present day. However, it digs deeper into Renee or Sandra’s past.

During one of her past versions, Renee is Karine (Solene Rigot). She’s on the receiving end of an adoptive father’s abuse. And before that, she is Kiki (Vega Kuzytek), who may have caused a tragedy, starting the course of her present life. As Orphan goes back and forth in time, it’s obvious the three of the main actors play their roles well. It’s wild how they can represent a decade in their character’s lives even if they’re four years apart.

Specific kudos goes to Rigot, who evinces the youth and scrappiness of a teenager who goes to dingy rural versions of French night clubs. Karine is smart enough to know that another older man can’t handle his liquor. Sadly, she’s too dumb to get her behind out of trouble. I know this is in MUBI because of its Adele retrospective but Rigot overshadows her. These performances attempt to complement, Orphan‘s thesis statement, which can be one of a few things.

One of the ones I’m leaning to is that people act on instinct. This makes sense when Karine, etc., hooks up with various men her age or older. She’s not dumb enough to fall in love with them but not manipulative enough to be the kind of ‘user’ woman that men have in their paranoid wet dreams. This doesn’t feel like enough of a thesis statement to justify both its content and its shaky form. If anything, its ambivalence factor into viewer investment, or more aptly, lack thereof.

Most reviewers also point out how male gaze-y Orphan is and I have to agree. There are two factors that complicate that, the first being Berthevas’ involvement in the project, the second being its textural approach to that gaze. Viewers can see the exhaustion in Renee’s face, or the acne in Sandra’s, or the wheels turning in all of the versions of the same character. Yet that doesn’t cover up how exploitative all of this is. And how it doesn’t make a point beyond of what it’s attempting.

Watch Orphan on MUBI.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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