Icíar Bollaín’s Goya-winning Take My Eyes approaches the horror of domestic abuse from a uniquely critical angle: by implicating the country’s artistic heritage in the modern subjugation of women. Pilar (Laia Marull) arrives at her sister’s home with her young son, Juan (Nicolás Fernández Luna), in a shroud of panic and indecision. We learn she’s left her husband, Antonio (Luis Tosar), who comes for her one day in the dead of night, standing outside his sister-in-law’s house and reaching for Pilar through an opening in the door. He’s gentle at first—when his romantic pleas seem as if they may seduce her—but he turns vicious when she refuses him. Bollaín frames this intense scene as if it were a painting, like the gorgeous works of art Pilar comes to study at a local museum. Bollaín’s direction is picky but scarcely hieratic: Because it doesn’t look anything like the films of Almodóvar or Amenábar, Take My Eyes probably won’t win much of an audience, but its matter-of-fact look befits the story’s apprehensiveness of romanticized representations of human turmoil in art. Though Pilar is now free to express her passion for art and breathlessly interpret it as she sees fit, her fixation with classic paintings depicting women in crisis works to rekindle her feelings for her husband. In a way, her freedom recycles her pervious abuse—a fascinating conundrum Bollaín uses to expose the way opinions about females that still exist in Spain have been passed down through the country’s aesthetic tradition. This insight deepens a scene in which Antonio seduces Pilar with shallow romantic gestures about her giving him parts of her body including her eyes, but it’s a stance that also positions the film perhaps too explicitly as a rumination on “the female gaze” and its controlling male equivalent—political weapons recognized by Laura Mulvey in her famous essay “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema” (one could even look at the film as an adaptation of that very text). This obviousness spills over to other scenes as well, mostly the sophomoric and condescending pseudo-psychological insight offered by scenes that have Antonio coping with his seemingly uncontrollable and unexplainable rage in domestic abuse therapy. Lucky for Bollaín that the autonomous and natural performances by Marull and Toscar are so strong that the film never fully succumbs to her more intellectual ambitions.
- Icíar Bollaín
- Icíar Bollaín, Alicia Luna
- Laia Marull, Luis Tosar, Candela Peña, Rosa Maria Sardà, Kiti Manver, Sergi Calleja, Nicolás Fernández Luna, Elisabet Gelabert, Chus Gutiérrez, Elena Irureta
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