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Archive for March, 2010

Have you ever had a dream where you do all your usual morning stuff? Eat breakfast, brush your teeth and leave for work. Only then you wake up and have to repeat what you just dreamed about. That happens to César, the main character of the movie Open Your Eyes. With the exception that he continues out the door and drives off to work with his car, only to find he is alone in the world. No cars, no people, just César and an abandoned city. Then he wakes up and finds a woman laying next to him.

The difference between sleep and reality is a question awakened constantly in Open Your Eyes as the main characters life slowly turns into a nightmare. The woman who awakens César is one of his frequent one-night-stands. The rich inheritor’s best friend tells us that César having sex with the same woman twice never happens. He seems to be acting his part when he seduces his best friend’s girlfriend. Unexpectedly for a man who denounces love as stupidity he falls in love with Sofía. After their first night together César misfigures his face in a car accident and turns into a monster. For a man who values his looks above all and concentrates on pleasure this is a catastrophe. Being a millionaire he hires the best plastic surgeons to fix his ruined face but the necessary technology does not exist yet. The best they can do is offer César a mask.

Fakeness and masks repeat constantly in the film. We first encounter masks at Sofía’s flat. To top it off the girl occasionally works as a living statue. Another important element appearing from time to time in the film are tv-commercials about cryonization. Escaping a nightmare into a possible future where plastic surgery can fix his face of course appeals to César.

Soon after the beginning you realize that César is locked up in a mental asylum, where he tells his story to a psychiatrist. The main character insists upon wearing his mask to cover terrible face. As he recollects his past memories and dreams mix. As the title suggests viewers should keep their eyes open from the beginning. The movie steadily turns weirder and shocks the viewer out of the story into considering what the movie exactly is trying to do. This causes you to consider the story in a different light and through that, nothing less than the medium of film itself.

Admittedly Open Your Eyes is at times demanding to watch. Its rich symbolism and film trickery might baffle viewers who have a passing relationship with films. However, for any good friend of cinema with open eyes the film is a rewarding thrillride with a great ending. It might even change the way you watch films. It definitely made me think how the reality of a film is carefully constructed. Ultimately the quickly changing images we love to watch are a created illusion, of which the film’s ending effectively reminds us. “Open your eyes.”

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Broken Embraces is a film about fighting the shadows of the past. The protagonist must overcome his demons and save a film made by him fourteen years ago. Pardon the stupidity, no, it is not an action film.

The film tells the story of blind scriptwriter Mateo Blanco, who now goes under his pseudonym Harry Caine. This fact and his blindness work as a mystery the viewer expects to be answered sooner or later. The circumstances surrounding these two enigmas is bound up with elderly businessman Ernesto Martel. His death sparks an interest to past events in Harry Caine. Many more questions are raised and answered until the film is over. Besides Caine and Martel the story of a woman named Lena is important as well.

The present of the film is interlaced by flashbacks from fourteen years ago when Mateo Blanco was filming a movie and still introduced himself by his real name. As the story the movie is at times tragic, provoking laughter right afterwards, then perhaps ending up with a disgusted shout. The main characters are lovable from the beginning, well, except for Martel, but he is a necessary evil in the movie. What are films without bad guys after all?

Besides the characters I also was stricken by the rich filmography. The color red is especially used for a strong effect. Mateo for example wears bright red clothes in flashbacks from the past while in the present he wears less luminous colors (matte?). Besides this Lena and Ernesto are differentiated by colors as well. Especially in a scene where the camera concentrates on Lena’s high heeled red shoes then switching to Ernesto’s black leather the symbolic value is strong. Red likely standing for youth while poor old Ernesto represents age, or evil perhaps?

The use of bright red is only one film trick employed by Almodovar. There are some truly beautiful scenes in this film. A bit towards the end where a recently blinded Mateo is at a beach with a small child especially. Also some deliciously funny dialogue, most of which was missed as a non-native speaker. One conversation where Mateo and a friend of his are discussing a vampire script they plan to write worked nontheless. Probably because of the vividness of the images they were making up. The writer’s of Twilight might want to take a look at this film.

Rich in irony, loaded with strong feelings and vivid imagery Broken Embraces is a treat even for a non-native speaker. Perhaps partly because of it. With less focus on the language I perhaps focused more on the shots and images. But with or without relying on subtitles, a great film.

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