Open Your Eyes
- Alejandro Amenábar
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, July 25, 2006
On César’s 25th birthday, Pelayo introduces him to Sofía (Penélope Cruz), his date for the night. César immediately likes Sofía and sees in her not only a potential catch but also a way out from obsessed ex-girlfriend Nuria (Najwa Nimri). As the birthday boy takes the girl away, Pelayo is heartbroken, but that’s not really the sort of thing César thinks about. Sofía, however, isn’t an easy catch, but indeed a fairly decent girl who seems to be looking for something meaningful. César falls for that and experiences love for the first time. Temptation and cockiness, however, take him back to Nuria immediately after he leaves Sofía’s place. And then Nuria, and destiny, take a hand.
The story turns from a mildly romantic drama into a psychological thriller of sorts, an excruciating misadventure that explores the mind of a very disturbed man trying to recover his life after losing what he valued most about himself. It’s not as drastic a transition though. César figures his life is worthless and sees everything around him falling apart, including his friendship with Pelayo and, most significantly, his romance with Sofía. But then, right when everything seems completely hopeless, things start getting better, life smiles once again to the now-unfortunate young man. How and why this happens, neither he nor we understand at first. His narration from the future keeps foreshadowing even stranger things to come. It all gets better but it also gets weirder and then out of control and totally unsustainable. Is César losing his mind or is life like a dream, where nightmares sometimes take over without a warning, spoiling sweet dreams that also come and go as they please? That’s the kind of question this movie compels.
I consider Abre los Ojos a modern masterpiece and one of the most entertaining films from the end of the 20th century. Amenábar’s pen is so powerful and affecting, it could be described as devastating. His script, co-written by Mateo Gil, is the closest approach to the world of dreams that I have ever seen on film, and the result is exactly the same. You can go from totally joyful to utterly unhappy, complete with R.E.M. and tachycardia, from one minute to the next, without a way out or the least comprehension of why things are changing so drastically. Dreams always appear as reality, and even a bored realist believes in them while he’s there.
Some people have a problem with the film giving them a hard time. Indeed, César’s quest is no picnic. Amenábar really believes in giving his characters a hard time for them to evolve. This hero, masterfully played by Noriega, goes from arrogant to victimized and his attitude changes so much, he’s another character altogether, but his evolution is credible and quite palpable. I didn’t have a problem with suffering along with him because I always cared and wanted him to keep fighting and looking for the truth, and really enjoyed it when it looked like he was going the right way. I especially enjoy the sequence where he and Antonio (Lera) play sleuths in a quest for truth. The climax, featuring an enigmatic character that shows up sporadically throughout the movie (Gérard Barray) is mesmerizing, quite unpredictable, outright poignant, and full of hope. I loved it, in spite of its underlying sadness.
Alejandro Amenábar is one of today’s finest directors and he has a lot more to offer. He’s an artist in all the extent of the word, as proven by his craft in this film, not only co-writing and directing but also composing the beautiful score. His direction is fully imaginative, pushing all the buttons to take the audience to all the right places. Be it a Hitchcock homage or a quiet scene under the rain, the proper reaction emerges in the form of overwhelming sentiment.
Few films have managed to play around with my perceptions and expectations like this Spanish gem; it’s one of my favorite films.
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