Mark Reviews Movies

The Eyes of My Mother


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Cast: Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak, Olivia Bond, Clara Wong, Flora Diaz, Joey Curtis-Green

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and behavior, and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:16

Release Date: 12/2/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 1, 2016

From her mother, she learned about the process of surgery and dissection. From her father, she learned how to keep a person alive in captivity for an extended period of time. From a stranger, she first heard about the "amazing" feeling of killing another human being. There is a sense of doom hanging over the protagonist of The Eyes of My Mother, although she doesn't notice it. That's because she thinks all of this is normal.

That line of thought is fascinating, albeit, perhaps, a bit of a stretch within the actual context of the movie. There is, undoubtedly, a sense of normality to the everyday life of Francisca, a Portuguese-American girl (played by Olivia Bond) who becomes a woman (played by Kika Magalhaes) on an isolated farm somewhere in one of the rural areas of the United States. The farmhouse and the rest of its acreage, as far as we can tell, are surrounded by a dense forest, to where no one travels without a reason.

The stranger that the young Francisca meets near the start of the movie has one. His name is Charlie (Will Brill), and Francisca's mother (Diana Agostini), who was an eye surgeon in her homeland, notices him talking to her daughter on the front lawn. Her husband (Paul Nazak), she tells the vagabond, will be home any second now. Francisca looks at the stranger without fear, possibly because she has never really met anyone else beyond her parents in this world. She looks as if she considers him to be a pretty nice man, and that look continues even after Charlie aims a gun at her mother's face.

Francisca doesn't respond in the expected way, because she has no experience with or, even, understanding of what is happening. She has only learned a few things in her secluded life, and a major one is her mother explaining how the human eye works by dissecting one from a cow's head, which sits, without any to-do, on the kitchen table during the mother's lesson. This is normal for Francisca. This is the way things are in life for the little girl.

What happens to the mother after Charlie pulls that pistol should be obvious. What happens after that is not.

The movie's first flash of violence offers the method by which writer/director Nicolas Pesce (his debut) presents the story's abundant brutality. It is only a flash—a shot of the father opening the door to the blood-covered bathroom to witness Charlie striking at the inside of the bathtub with the grip of the pistol. We don't see any acts of graphic violence. Pesce frames the few incidents of violence that occur on screen in such a way that we're instead focused on faces—of the attacker and the victim.

It's the aftermath of those violent acts in which Pesce almost seems to revel, and in this context, the aftermath is far more disturbing than the act that caused it. In addition to outright murder, the movie suggests forced surgery, the dismemberment of corpses, and cannibalism, without ever showing the gruesome details (There's a minor exception for the second one, in a single shot of Francisca holding an arm with the sickening sound of a hacksaw grinding bone).

We know all of these things are happening, because Pesce focuses on Francisca cleaning up after the violence and caring for the victims of her surgical exploits. "Caring" would seem to be an odd word to use under these circumstances, but that is what she does, to the best of her understanding of the concept. Her first foray into surgery that results in mutilation comes as the result of wanting to help her father keep the stranger chained up in the barn quiet. She calls the stranger her "only friend" before going to work, and that seems to be only reason he survives as long as he does—even after she stops taking care of her father and, later, his corpse. She's lonely girl who becomes a very lonely woman.

The central point, if there is one (and that's a big "if"), appears to be the distancing approach Pesce takes to this twisted story. In addition to the lack of any actual violence on screen, the filmmaker, along with cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, has shot the movie entirely in rich but sterile black-and-white, which intentionally undercuts the impact of the profuse amount of blood that goes along with Francisca's demented work. A pool of blood, which she needs to scrub from the kitchen floor after bringing home a woman from the bar, might as well be an innocuous liquid. The plastic-wrapped items that she places in the refrigerator could be anything, really, until we notice that one looks like a foot.

Pesce's technique keeps the horror partially at bay (not entirely, because the results of Francisca's surgeries are, indeed, horrifying), and that leaves us to ponder the tragic normalcy of the central character's circumstances. That's where The Eyes of My Mother falls regrettably short, because this is a character whom Pesce's screenplay wholly defines by way of atrocities that she cannot comprehend. We're repulsed, while she remains unmoved, and Pesce offers nothing to connect those disparate reactions.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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