Jealousy and obsession form a small sub-category of cinematic themes. From Orson Welles’s classy, high-brow adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello to trashy schlocks like Adrian Lynne’s Fatal Attraction, cinema has been supplying audiences’ obsessions with the obsessive and out-of-control since the medium’s incipient days. It makes sense: it gives us an illusory sense of intimacy with those people we are better advised to avoid in real life, but who we are nonetheless masochistically attracted to.
The Spanish film Take My Eyes (Te doy mis ojos), directed by Iciar Bollain and the winner of seven Goya awards (the Spanish Oscars), loosely fits in that category, although director Iciar is clearly not interested in the pitfalls of genre , elegantly avoiding clichés, cheap thrills and spills. Instead, she focuses on character and a naturalism that turns out to be its biggest asset: the painfully mundane reality shown in Take My Eyes is the most disturbing thing about it.
It’s a simple story of a battered housewife, Pilar (Laia Marull) who flees her home with her son to escape the domestic violence from her husband Antonio (Luis Tosar). As she tries to rebuild her life and find an occupation, which quite obviously she has been denied because of Antonio’s troglodyte machismo, he starts hounding her with promises that he’s changed. Pilar and the viewer give him the benefit of the doubt as we do see him undergoing therapy and counselling. The group therapy sequences are a very eloquent reminder of how a lot of men still behave and relate to their partners and life general, although Iciar does not indulge in straight-man-bashing – she’s only fair and accurate in her observation (there are ‘good men’ in the film too, after all!).
We spend a long time with Pilar, who’s played beautifully by Marull, as she tries to reconstruct her identity and make sense of the woman she really is. What is convincing about her character is that she is not a heroin mother getting back together with her husband because of her son, obeying a ‘maternal’ instinct to get the family together – she goes back to Antonio because she lusts after him. He’s sexy and horny, and that’s what drives her back to him. Marull is a very accomplished actress, going from frumpy to sexy with no big efforts and no artifice. Her facial expressions are also deeply expressive. The rest of the cast is equally excellent.
Shot in the sunny, wintery weather of the old city of Toledo, in the centre of Spain, Take My Eyes, achieves with naturalism what genre-informed movies normally fail to do: to create a real feeling of apprehension, instead of a pantomimic caricature of it. The setting helps as well. This is not happy, sunny Spain, but a rather dull, pastel, humdrum old-worldy universe, an extension of the tediousness of the married life Pilar goes back to. Perhaps we could do without the easy analogies between Pilar’s life and the paintings in the museum where she starts to work, but that doesn’t really compromise the overall quality: in a film with no gimmicks that manages to hold the attention for nearly two hours, that’s a minor detail.