Some movies are strict one-timers, usually due to their difficult subject matter. I'd cite United 93 as an example. Spanish director Icíar Bollaín's Take My Eyes (Te doy mis ojos) is another one. It's not about a national tragedy like 9/11, but in its investigation into an abusive marriage, it sort of is. Bollaín demonstrates that abuse is a sickness that is bred into Spanish men by a complex combination of factors, not the least of which is traditional Catholicism, which still has a vice grip on the country. If you have the constitution for a movie like this, Take My Eyes pays serious cinematic dividends through its incredible lead performances, Bollaín's terribly convincing screenplay and refusal to devolve into melodramatic cliché. 

Pilar (Laia Marull) is the young, stay-at-home mother of a nine-year-old boy and the wife of an appliance salesman, Antonio (Luis Tosar). When we first see her, she is frantically packing her sons belongings into a bag and rushing him out the door in the middle of the night. They hastily board a bus to the home of her sister, Ana (Candela Peña), who takes them in, but not without questions and more than a little bit of judgment. The women's mother, the widow and vestige of an unhappy, hyper-traditional marriage, has little in the way of understanding to offer Pilar: her solution is to just be a better wife.

Bollaín makes strategic use of audience knowledge throughout her film, because we only find out gradually the precise nature of the relationship between Pilar and Antonio. Rather than having the characters deliver monologues about their philosophies on marriage, we see how they relate through their behavior. So it is surprising when we see Antonio at a non-compulsory group meeting in which he can discuss his anger issues that are directed towards his wife. We witness the strictly masculine environment in which he dwells outside of his home, and how there are few people with whom he spends time that do not echo his own overblown frustrations with his wife. Antonio is a quiet, intense man who can be immensely charming and generous, but who is also given out to terrifying bouts of outrage. Bollaín is nearly objective in her portrayal of the man in his world: she does not excuse his abominable behavior towards his wife, but she can at least account for why it started in the first place.

Take My Eyes vacillates in its plot between Pilar splitting from Antonio and being wooed back into his good graces, very much in the way you'd expect a victim of abuse to behave. Ana, who marries a loving, wealthy and domestically useful man, cannot understand what would draw Pilar back to her husband. Her frustration is understandable but it is also quite damaging to Pilar in her fragile state. It is with this sort of psychologically accurate depiction that Bollaín truly shines. It also enables us to stay on board with the film once it becomes truly dark and difficult to watch. I'd expect that abusive marriages are tortuous in subtle ways until they explode, which is what happens here. I won't describe how it goes down—I don't have the heart for it—but it will shake you. Its resolution is just as unexpected yet truthful.

You may not feel the jolt of catharsis from Take My Eyes that you'd expect from a Hollywood version of this story, but you will certainly reflect on your own relationships, which is the least that very good art can do.

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