Director: Victor Erice
Screenplay: Víctor Erice, Michel Gaztambide
Starring: Manolo Solo, Jose Coronado, Ana Torrent, Petra Martínez, María León, Mario Pardo, Helena Miquel, Antonio Dechent, Venecia Franco, José María Pou, Soledad Villamil, Juan Margallo
Country: Spain
Running Time: 169 minutes
Year: 2023

“A new film from Victor Erice”. Now, there’s a phrase I bet many of us didn’t expect to hear. It’s 30 years since his last feature film. He’s dabbled here and there in the intervening years, but still, a full-length feature, his fourth, is a treat. It’s more than that. Following The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur, Close Your Eyes is another masterpiece.

A famous Spanish actor, Julio Arenas (José Coronado), disappears while filming a movie. Although his body is never found, the police conclude that he died in an accident at a cliff by the sea. Many years later, the mystery is brought to light once more by a TV programme which asks for the help of Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo), Julio’s friend and the director of the unfinished film. Returning to Madrid, Miguel is brought back to his past.

It’s a simple plot, but with rich, deep layers of character, and the film takes its time to unfold, clocking in at nearly three hours. I’m not complaining. I refuse to join in with the juvenile, “are films too long” debate. Just as Gandalf arrives precisely when he means to, so do films, and Erice’s feels organic and measured. Real. His mise en scene and the pacing is quite extraordinary and yet it never feels like he’s trying to direct something. It simply exists.

When melancholic director Miguel visits his editor friend Max (Mario Pardo), who appears to live in a wonderful warehouse full of celluloid and film props, a sign can be spotted in the background. “Rosebud”. On paper, perhaps the plot could mirror the mystery in Citizen Kane , but it’s a cheeky reference. Close Your Eyes couldn’t be more different to Welles’ machine-tooled execution. There’s even at least one plot thread allowed to drift without conclusion.

Miguel appears to be trying to hide. His past is a sad one, even since losing his friend. His present is a monk-like existence, but he can’t quite resist wondering what really happened to Arenas, the plot pivoting between grasping identity and reconciling memory. And there is no better medium than film to do that. For a while, the fact Miguel was a filmmaker seems almost indulgent, but it transpires that the notion of cinema is the spine in the narrative. The story can be eccentric, sentimental even, but never the Hollywood mode of romantic realism; yet its heart soars when contemplating the power of film. I was reminded of moments in Cinema Paradiso, but Erice’s gentle subtlety makes it seem manipulative in comparison. And that isn’t fair on Giuseppe Tornatore’s glorious film.

It’s right to say that the performances throughout the cast are excellent, but more important is the pitch of those performances. Individuals with their own conflicting desires nevertheless needing each other and finding something elusive within art. When Arenas disappeared, he took with him the character he was playing in Miguel’s film. For Erice, the point is clear. Filmmaking is a technical process but the result is impossible to grasp. New realities were contained within the nondescript reels of celluloid for those involved in creating them and the enigmatic conclusion is profoundly moving, especially if you love cinema as a concept.

Erice is a uniquely talented storyteller. His style could never be an ‘ian’. ‘Wellesian’, ‘Hitchcockian’, ‘Spielbergian’, etc. You can’t quite bottle the Erice formula and yet it’s there to be savoured.

Close Your Eyes (Cerrar los ojos)
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.