Tuesday, January 14, 2020

In short: The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

When she was young (and played by Olivia Bond), Francisca’s mother (Diana Agostini) was murdered by a serial killer doing a bit of home invasion business. Her father (Paul Nazak) arrived home just that little bit too late to save his wife, knocking out the killer and imprisoning him in the barn. The clearly traumatized man quickly put the responsibility for the killer on his daughter, who turned the man into her mutilated pet/”friend”.

Ten years or so later, Francisca (now having grown up to be played by Kika Magalhães) is royally screwed up psychologically, seeking human closeness and love in pathetic and unpleasant ways. Cuddling the corpse of her father, having sex with the killer whose still continuing time in the barn has left him hardly more than an animal, and murdering prospective one-night stands who get cold feet are all part of her desperate attempts at relating; baby-kidnapping’s closer than you think.

I am very much of two minds about Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother. On one hand, it’s impossible not to admire the great craftsmanship of the film, the way it successfully views material that’s made for an extreme exploitation movie through the stylistic lens of arthouse cinema. Long takes, scarce dialogue, and usually gorgeous compositions are all par for the course here, as is artful handling of the decision to not show the inherent violence of the material but – except for a couple of very specific moments – only its aftermath (or sometimes the noises it produces on the film’s brilliantly realized soundscape). All this is at the very least aesthetically pleasing – not to be confused with pleasant in this particular case, obviously.

However, my problem with the film is that all of these great technical achievements are also ways for the film to distance itself and its audience from its material. Its unwillingness to go to the visible extremes you’d expect from the material certainly avoids any tackiness, or any way anyone could complain the film to ghoulishly wallow in all of the degradation and horror as a proper exploitation movie would, yet it also keeps at least this viewer at arms length from emotionally relating and understanding Francisca as more than an abstract case study that yes, trauma is bad for you, robbing the film of the visceral jolt I believe it needs. Sure, abstractly, all of the stuff in the film is pretty terrible, but it’s all so tastefully realized and abstracted from actual human pain, I found myself looking at it like a sociopath trying to figure out feelings, admiring the form but never connecting to the content.

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