photo: Courtesy of SPI International
Running time: 101 minute
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Alakina Mann, James Bentley
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Rating: 8 out of 10
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Living on the Isle of Jersey with two children suffering from a mysterious disease making them fatally allergic to sunlight has driven Nicole Kidman's character to the point of insanity. Her daughter still remembers her mother's moment of madness. World War II has ended but her husband is still missing in the battlefields of France. Her life offers her nothing but darkened rooms, religion and death.
"The Others" is the first English-language movie directed by Alejandro Amenábar, a 25-year old Spanish director who was born in Chile. It is also his first masterpiece, and has been nominated for many European awards. In this movie he was all in one - a director who wrote his own screenplay and composed music in an apartment away from the studio.
The movie is incomparably better than his first works Tésis (1996), and "Abre los Ojos" ("Open Your Eyes", 1999), a remake of a well-known Alfred Hitchock thriller "Vertigo" (1958). It made an impact only in Spain.
"The Others" revives the tradition of 1930s and 1940s haunted house movies and books. An isolated, old-fashioned, beautiful Victorian house emerges from the silent, melancholy surroundings bringing to the screen pale characters wandering through rooms and halls - and having startling experiences in the world beyond.
The film also has something that is often forgotten among the special effects of contemporary movie production - human faces. Behind the thick and dusty curtains, overwhelmed by their fear of daylight, human faces and eyes express primal fears and sufferings. Amenábar is a painter, playing more with shadows than light, and preferring silence over noise.
Amenábar uses shadows and silence in this film to express loneliness, misunderstandings and distant war. He captures in it the pain of a mother tormented by her children's illnesses, a father returning with unspeakable trauma, and the fear of living again.
"This is a journey for Grace and her children towards light and discovery. Brightness is knowledge and in this case darkness is metaphor. Her beliefs and the way she teaches them blind her. In the film she begins to open her mind and open to the light," explains Amenábar.
The movie hides more than it shows, characters are covered with shadows, and only their grimaces bear the real meaning, requiring superb acting. Nicole Kidman is excellent in the role of a deranged and confused mother obsessed by fear. Fionnula Flanagan, one of "James Joyce's Women" (1985, directed by Michael Pearce) is the mysterious but generous servant Mrs Mills who will help her to reach the final truth.
"Sometimes the worlds of the living and the dead just get mixed up," says Flanagan in the movie. Behind the thick curtains Amenábar tells us how.