Director/Writer: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhaes, Paul Nazak, Will Brill
Duration: 76 minutes
BBFC Certification: 15
The Eyes Of My Mother opens as if its director is following a checklist entitled “How To Make An Arthouse Film”. Moody black and white? Check. Minimal music? Check. Jarring, stilted dialogue? Check. It fulfils the subtitled foreign language requirement by switching from English to Portuguese indeterminately, and the disjointed editing is perfect at making the plot unnecessarily difficult to follow. Perhaps this is to conceal the fact that there’s hardly any plot there.
Francesca (Kika Magalhaes, whose solemn presence is the film’s redeeming feature) is a troubled young woman. After her mother is murdered by a stranger (whose highly original motive is simply that killing “feels amazing”), child Francesca helps her father with the next logical course of action, which is to bury the body in the woods and chain the murderer to the floor of their barn. As Francesca grows up on her father’s isolated farm, her “only friend” her mother’s captured killer, she begins to explore her own dark desires and fascinations.
As an adult, Francesca calmly embarks on a series of murders, starting with her father who, in retrospect, should probably have seen it coming. The film reaches its climax when Francesca, now lonely, kidnaps a baby to raise as her own while keeping its mother blinded and in chains. I guess something is being said here about the cyclical nature of trauma, of how children reenact the families that they grow up in. I’m being optimistic. The Eyes Of My Mother has all the style of the thousand arthouse films that came before it, and absolutely none of the substance.
Despite this, Magalhaes’s performance as Francesca is compelling. Her wide-eyed serenity manages to hit on the unease that the rest of film is clearly aiming for, and the character's practical approach to murder has moments of humour which Magalhaes subtly encourages. It’s frustrating watching these moments swallowed up by the apparently unironic gloom. There are moments of beauty in the film - Francesca in a cow field, twirling flowers between her fingers - which the heavy handed stylisation all but smothers.
Ultimately, the film ends up being a slasher without the slashing. The serious style implies deeper meanings, but never delivers; the minimal dialogue aims for mystery but results in boredom. Its influences are clear (Almodóvar, Luis Buñuel), but the film has little to say for itself. At least, like life, it’s short.
The Eyes Of My Mother is released in UK cinemas on Friday 24th 2017.