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Orphans (2000)
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by Dr Nick

"This wonít bring any tourists to Glasgow"
4 stars

Peter Mullan's debut feature is not just another dark comedy, it's absolutely pitch black. Full of miserable people living miserable lives in a miserable place it should be...well...miserable, but instead it manages to be moving, sad and absolutely hilarious. It's not an easy film to watch, but who said life was easy?

There was a time when Scotland looked like a nice place to live in. Big hills, cosy cottages and crystal clear lochs. The weather didnít even seem that bad. And the people. Honourable, handsome men fighting injustice and oppression. Then came Trainspotting and showed that those days are long gone, the kilted heroes replaced by junkies and the hills replaced by concrete. And with Orphans, the old postcard picture of Scotland is not just destroyed but obliterated, showing a place that is so miserable that we might as well just laugh at the whole mess. And the worst thing is that itís only funny because itís true. This deliciously dark comedy will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Often painfully funny, it affords us the rare pleasure of laughing at the misfortune of others whilst still caring and feeling sorry for them.

The story is simple enough. Three brothers and their disabled sister have just lost their mother and we follow them the day and night leading up to the funeral. Hardly a promising set-up for a comedy then? Well, despite it's depressing premise, Orphans manages to be both hysterically funny and moving, often at the same time. When the older brother, Thomas, breaks down in tears during a karaoke session and is ridiculed by some drunken thugs, his younger brother, Michael, snaps and a fight breaks out. In true Glasgow fashion he is stabbed and the thugs escape. At the sight of his brother bleeding, the youngest brother, John, promises to get even and hunt down and kill the perpetrator. Before anyone can stop him, he is off on a journey through the city in search of a gun. Thomas spends the night in the church, having promised to stay by his mother's side until the funeral service. Meanwhile, Sheilaís wheelchair breaks down in a dark alley. She is rescued by a young girl and unwillingly taken to a surprise birthday party. Separated from each other, they all learn valuable lessons about themselves and their personal relationships.

Orphans is a very Scottish film and no attempts have been made to make the actors more understandable to outsiders. It comes with the thick accents, the slang, the Scottish in-jokes. Thereís still plenty to enjoy for people whoíve never set foot near Scotland, but to fully appreciate the humour you really need to know the place. Like with all films, which are set in a very specific location it adds an extra dimension to the film if you have experienced the place in real-life. Thereís no flashy camera work or editing, no soundtrack to guide your emotions. This is quality film making at its best. No nonsense, just a great script and fantastic performances all round.

Death, violence, misery and some family bonding. Ok, so it maybe doesn't sound like a comedy, but believe me, it's funny. Complete with accidental facial cum shots and human dartboards, Orphans is one of the best Scottish films of the last decade, maybe ever.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5654&reviewer=345
originally posted: 01/31/05 18:48:08
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2/01/04 juan martinez great 4 stars
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  10-Mar-2000 (R)



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