One caretaker in particular spreads her arms and her love as widely as she can.
CASA DE LOS BABIES
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
John Sayles has brought his curiosity and compassion to the subject of adoption by Americans of children in a foreign country. “Casa de Los Babys” is a lovely film. A cluster of American women, none of whom would know each other under other circumstances, passes long days in a South American hotel, each waiting for a baby from the orphanage. They have done the daunting paperwork and traveled many thousands of miles; now they must wait – in some cases, for months.
The women make a few excursions to the beach or the village market, but mostly stick close to the hotel, waiting for the phone call. They are quiet and guarded, as if being open might hurt their chances in some way they don’t understand. One or two drift off to the solitude of their rooms as the others begin to gossip about one another; the others engage in a running, slightly bitter dialogue. Sayles explores their motivations for wanting to become mothers, but he does it with a very light hand. We never know much about these women, just enough to be curious about the strength of their determination when the process is an ordeal full of uncertainty.
The scenes in the orphanage are wrenching, but not because the place is dirty or the treatment bad. It is spare and spotless; one caretaker in particular spreads her arms and her love as widely as she can, but - if only there were one of her for every baby. Beautiful babies in clean white cribs, waiting, though they don’t know it, to be taken home. As we watch the women who will be their mothers, we know they know nothing yet about raising children but each was drawn more than 10,000 miles by a primal need to raise a child.
By showing us life outside the orphanage, John Sayles sketches the probable future for the babies who are not adopted. The girls will be maids by ten, the boys will be street thieves, selling whatever they can lay their hands on, stealing again, sleeping under a pier.
All of this is caught in a sublime scene between Asuncion (Vanessa Martinez), a young maid in the hotel who gave her own baby up for adoption, and Eileen (Susan Lynch), one of the Americans. Though neither understands the language of the other, each manages to reveal her dreams and sadness. Standing, Asuncion listens quietly and then, grasping intuitively the depth of their connection, sits gently down on the bed and tells her story in Spanish to the American. It is a beautiful scene, utterly moving.
Although Susan Lynch and Vanessa Martinez nearly walk away with the film at that point, they are surrounded by the fine performances of Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Rita Moreno. John Sayles uses their talents and his own expansive imagination to paint a picture of the poignancy that surrounds adoption.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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