The Eyes of My Mother, 2016.
Written and Directed by Nicolas Pesce.
Starring Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, and Paul Nazak.
A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life.
You can’t but applaud director Nicolas Pesce for lack of vision. His streamlined feature debut, The Eyes of My Mother, a gruesome, gaudy descent into the psychosis of a lonely woman, aims high but ultimately misses, in the process taking notes from the films of Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Tobe Hooper and Ingmar Bergman. It’s a puzzle made of pieces that don’t fit.
The seemingly idyllic life of an American-Portuguese family is suddenly interrupted by the presence of creepy salesman Charlie, who having worked his way into the house massacres the mother in the bathtub for little purpose. The father (characters are mostly left unnamed) decides on revenge being the best medicine and chains Charlie up in the barn. After a while, his screams begin to interrupt their daily ritual, leading to child Francisca to remove his eyes and his vocal chords.
Over three chapters-each representing Francisca’s burgeoning womanhood-and in monochromatic black and white, Pesce weaves a hysterically depraved, maddeningly irksome nightmare with student film levels of art house subtlety.
The violence umms and errs between the implied and sudden bursts of vulgarity but never amounts to anything more than the ineffectually provocative. Pesce lacks the discipline of Michael Haneke or the comic timing and probing provocation of Almodovar. Yet, for what it’s worth, the manic barbarity is perverse enough to inspire the occasional shocked awe and muted gasp.
Director of Photography Zach Kuperstein frames the schlock horror as if a Bergman remake of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Long shots of empty spaces displace the blood splatter whilst in a Haneke-lite move, violence is seen for but a brief moment, placing emphasis on the implication rather than the initial act.
It’s a shame then that the film suffers from a lack of discipline. At just 75 minutes, it’s little more than a brief detour, but with a lack of narrative focus and an intensity that never feels earned, those 75 minutes feel increasingly stretched. Each chapter attempts to amplify the horror, be it body or psychological, but only ever ultimately feels insincere in it’s approach.
Thankfully, in relative newcomer Kika Magahlaes, you have a burgeoning star. Where the source material lacks affectation, she brings a wealth of sadness, her loneliness somehow bringing reason to the horrors. Whether or not she is ever truly sympathetic is an issue. An interaction with a woman at a bar that leads to a sexual encounter hints at something bigger, but Pesce probes too little.
To the credit of Pesce, for all of its problems, you can’t but applaud him for the brazen audacity to release a film so unflinching in its refusal to please. Where he misses the mark in certain homages, it takes chutzpah to bring to mind such classics of the genre as Funny People, Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Skin I Live In.
Sadly it never truly transcends anything other than total futility. The violence exists only to shock and in failing to affect, a final flourish dissipates where it should rouse. Pesce will make films better, and his debut is something strange, stubborn and intriguingly bothersome.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★