Friday, October 3, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Conversations à la Sayles peel away women's layers in 'Casa de los Babys'

Seattle Times movie critic

A few years back, writer/director John Sayles made a movie called "Limbo," in which his characters — and audience — wait a while for something to happen, then are left dangling at the end, their eventual fate left to the imagination. The title would work equally well for "Casa de los Babys," in which several sets of characters bide their time: a group of six American women, waiting in an unnamed South American country to adopt babies; another group of locals who cater to the women while questioning their presence; and the angelic babies themselves, whose futures remain a series of question marks.

Sayles, a rare screenwriter who consistently creates thoughtful roles for grown-up women, has outdone himself here — the six women, interchangeable at first, quickly emerge as intriguing individuals. Marcia Gay Harden's Nan is a constant talker, pushy and pleased with herself, but not quite the confident woman she appears to be. Daryl Hannah, as Skipper, hides a secret behind a cloak of physical perfection (and reveals it, in an aching scene).

Movie review

"Casa de los Babys," with Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lili Taylor, Rita Moreno, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch. Written and directed by John Sayles. 93 minutes. Rated R for some language and brief drug use. Metro, Uptown.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jennifer, the youngest of the six, has a wistful smile and an almost apologetic manner; she's clearly still feeling ambiguous, though her husband back home is not. ("No, I don't think you should call the Korea people. This isn't the commodities market," she tells him on the phone.) And Rita Moreno, lipstick perfectly applied and heels tapping, is the owner of the hotel in which they stay, and a businesswoman to the core, untroubled by moral clouds. Parasites, says her son, of the wealthy Americans. Customers, says she.

At times "Casa" feels more like a series of intelligent conversations than a movie — but moviegoers hungry for chewy subject matter won't be complaining. And there are moments, as in all of Sayles' films, when the honesty of the characters achieves a kind of lyricism. Susan Lynch, as Eileen, has a speech about her daughter-to-be, as she fantasizes getting the child ready to go out in the snow. "I go in front, to break the way for her," she says, in wonderment, near tears at the thought of a dream coming true.

Her only audience is a Spanish-speaking maid, who nonetheless understands and tells a story of her own daughter, who's now "up north." Everyone in this quietly moving film has a tale, and each is worth the telling; even the babies, with their shining eyes and gurgly smiles, seem poised to begin a story of their own.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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