The Eyes Of My Mother FILM REVIEW
There’s an exchange, around 10 minutes into The Eyes Of My Mother’s 77 minute run time that is perhaps the most perfect definition of horror we’ve see this year:
“You let me in.”
The exchange is between young Francisca (Olivia Board) and Charlie (Will Brill) and the balance of power in the conversation is the exact opposite to what you might think. Much like the rest of the film.
Shot almost exclusively at distance or with locked-off cameras and almost no music, The Eyes Of My Mother is as surgical and precise in its creation of terror as Francisca in her cuts. There is minimal dialogue, almost no violence and pacing that varies from methodical to staccato. Far shorter than the usual release, its measured pace, tone and prfound sense of unease makes it seem far longer. Writer/Director Nicholas Pesce is much like his lead: he knows exactly what needs to be removed.
The film opens with Young Francisca and her mother (Diana Agostini) welcoming a visitor to their isolated farm. Charlie, played with spiky, dead-eyed happiness by Will Brill is the least interesting element of the movie. He’s also the element that’s changed, or removed, fastest. Francisca and her father (Paul Nazak in a near-silent but gripping performance) deal with Charlie in their own ways. Father beats him; Francisca blinds him and removes his tongue.
But doesn’t kill him.
Charlie’s actions and the consequences of them are horrific. You see almost nothing of them and that makes it so much worse. Instead, we get first Board and then Kika Magalhaes as Olivia making the best of her tiny, lonely, horrifying life. Years pass, Charlie is still in the barn and Olivia is alone.
But not for long.
Magalhaes is on screen almost constantly here. In the hands of a lesser actress, the role would collapse under the weight of its own gimmickry. Instead, Magalhaes shows us not just how capable Francisca, who in any film would be a victim or a monster, is; she’s also painfully aware of what’s going on, knows she’s wrong and desperately wants not to be. Her struggles to survive and grow as a person, even with her own malformed sense of the world, form the tragic heart of the movie. It also goes some way towards explaining why Pesce shoots like he does. Especially in the outside sequences Francisca is almost always seen from a long distance. She’s a tiny, unformed human adrift in a world she just about understands and even that understanding is based on her capacity for remarkably efficient violence.
That’s especially true of the penultimate chapter, “Family”. Francisca acquires a baby and the scene in which she deals with the mother is arguably the film’s strongest moment. It’s locked-off, at distance once again and completely unflinching. The actual violence you see is almost non-existent but the violence she commits is as precise as it is absolute. One image in particular – of someone whose voicebox has just been removed, screaming – is pure nightmare fuel.
And yet, Francisca is as much a victim as the people she mutilates. She has one terrible day, one day when she let the monster in and it never left. The tragedy, and horror, of the film works on multiple levels but that’s the one that resonates loudest. A woman whose life is scarred by a monster, trying to heal herself through the scarring of the others.
The Eyes Of My Mother is a hard watch. Not because it’s excessively gory, but because of how little it lets you look away. Francisca’s story is a tragedy, the stories she interact with become tragedies and you’re right there with her. It’s a brave, often mannered film but its haunting imagery, terrifying premise and ending will haunt you long after its done.
Review by Alasdair Stuart
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