August 21, 2009

Open your Eyes

Open your Eyes begins with Penelope Cruz's voice waking you into the film- it closes with Cruz's voice asking you to lapse back into the film again. The first and last image therefore that my imagination presented itself with was that of a beautiful girl leaning over and waking me up from a long sleep. It is a fitting image to discuss this film with because it conveys the two issues that this film is focussed on- the relationship between men and women and its relationship to beauty- and the coils of a story that never stops becoming more and more intricate. The first I suggest is satisfactory- the second less so. But I run before my horse to market: the film concerns Cesar, a young man, whose parents are dead and who has therefore inherited all the money in their catering firm. He is stunningly handsome and makes it his business to never sleep with a woman more than once- once bedded they are discarded. His friend Pelayo, who is less handsome and unsuccessful with women, makes the mistake of bringing his latest girlfriend Sofia to a party that Cesar is holding: Cesar as part of avoiding his previous conquest Nuria seduces Sofia away from Pelayo and stays the night with her. The next morning however Nuria persuades him to get into a car with her, and drives off crazily to commit suicide- during that process she does not kill Cesar but leaves him disfigured. As a disfigured man he finds that Sofia rejects him, he rejects Pelayo and from there on in, I think its worth leaving you to discover the story.

One of the themes here naturally established is that someone's looks are what establishes their romantic viability. I have never noticed that to be untrue in my dealings both with men and women- despite what we say, looks count for more than anything else in the ways that we assess potential mates. Cesar exposes like Dorian Gray does in Oscar Wilde's novel that human beings are much more focussed on looks and superficialities than on anything else in any sphere of life. Love, work indeed almost every relationship between human beings are based upon externalities which do not necessarily have anything to do with the rather false ideas of moral worth and hidden virtue: virtue we learn in this film is a social concept as is worth- you are worth what others esteem you as and insofar as you disagree with them, your role is not to rage against the world's judgement but to accommodate yourself to it. In part this is a critique of society in its technical and wide sense- ie society as a group of people living together. But in reality it is not a critique at all: to state a fact is not to critique or argue against it. The ugly like Pelayo must accept that they are second class citizens in a world given to the beautiful- it is Cesar's refusal to accept his later disfigurement and its consequences for him, his relegation through the social hierarchies that causes problems.

The story is about more than the effects of beauty on the world. It also whirls into a story about dream and perception- the question continually confronts you from Cruz's first words. We wake up in order to perceive the world- we wake up to truths and ideas and we are caressed into believing certain things- as is Cesar through whom we view the story. The development of these ideas is cleverly and cunningly managed. I found particular sequences which tread the boundaries between reality and fantasy brilliantly realised. It demands a lot of the two female actors involved- they have to keep within character and yet play different characters. Cruz does this very well indeed- she manages to be both accepting of Cesar's advances and later cold and then warm to him but the stand out performance in this regard I thought came from Najwa Nimri playing Nuria. The shift in performance that she has to make and make realistic is incredibly demanding- the technical challenge of shifting so slightly from madness to sanity, from malevolence to warmth is something that I think very few actresses could do. Cruz's part in a sense is easier- to imagine a girl who has a manner to reject as well as to accept advances is easier than to imagine a girl whose character is in flux as much as Nimri's is is. The actors reinforce then the confusion in the mind of Cesar and in the mind of the audience- but what they cannot do is atone for an over-neat summing up. If there is a fault in the film it is that some questions may be more interesting if they are not answered and the audience is puzzling over them than if they are answered: one might say the American film Donnie Darko has the same problem, what started interestingly, ends sillily.

Open your eyes serves a third purpose. More and more I think films are attempting (see David Lynch's recent effort) to chart the language of dreams- to put dreams in front of our conscious minds and see what we make of our own mental languages. I think Open your Eyes attempts to do this- the characters may be waking up but we in the cinema may be waking into sleep. THe film in that sense represents a heightened dream. Its an idea that haunts the film- Cesar is always dreaming, Sophia is Pelayo's dream woman, etc. The film itself has a dreamy quality to it- the stars are the epitome of beauty, Cesar's face is the dream of handsome openness replaced by a configuration that resembles a drawing of the beast. Film has always been an art of aspiration from the musicals of the thirties onwards and I think this is picking up on that artistic camoflage- pointing out that beauty hides worms and malignancy. If this is true of people, it is also true of industries. Art is an industry- an industry that like our tales of dreaming and our tales of reality knits together realities into a sequence. Like a dream, which takes realities and puts them together with a string that is invented, art does the same thing. It takes realities and rearranges them- whatever is a critique of reality thus functions as well as a vindication of art, of the art of reimagining life. If reality is a dream, then we are faced with choices between alternative dreams- one of which is an artistic one./

Open your Eyes is imperfect. I was not happy with an end which Donnie Darko like manufactured coherence- but there is so much here to enjoy, so much to love. The acting is wonderful, Cruz is luminous, the ideas are good until the end and the cinematography is wonderful.


James Higham said...

Oh gosh, for a minute I thought you were exhorting your readers to open their eyes to what's happening in Britain. :)

Gracchi said...

I am: British film reviewing is in a parlous state :)