Take My Eyes
Take My Eyes opens with a woman frantically gathering her things and her young son and fleeing from some real or imagined terror. We soon find out that the woman, Pilar (Laia Marull), is fleeing from an all-too-real abusive relationship with her husband Antonio (Luis Tosar). She takes refuge with her sister Ana (Candela Pena) who's about to marry a Scotsman. Ana helps her find a job at a museum and offers her emotional support. But Pilar's mother urges her daughter to return to her husband. Antonio also pleads his case, insisting he can change. He leaves her gifts at her work and points out that he's begun therapy.
Eventually Pilar weakens and returns home. Antonio makes an effort to change and manages to curb his violence for a time. But as Pilar gains confidence in herself and secures a job as a museum guide, Antonio grows increasingly insecure and concerned that she will leave him again.
Actress-turned-director Iciar Bollain guides Take My Eyes through rough emotional terrain. She chronicles the deteriorating relationship from Pilar's perspective but she doesn't paint Antonio in broad, cliched strokes. She shows that he wants to change and that he's making an effort. She also shows that in his own way he does love Pilar. But Antonio never reaches a necessary point of insight. He wants to change because others tell him he needs to change but he never comes to understand that the desire to change must come from within and not from outside. The scenes of his group therapy sessions give us a brief glimpse into the still male dominated Spanish culture, and Bollain finds a scary humor in their macho excuses for abusing their wives, and their unrealistic expectations of what marriage should be.
In the scenes of violence, Bollain captures the terror that Pilar feels, and the emotional as well as physical destructiveness of the violence. In some ways, the emotional abuse is worse than the physical. The uncertainty of when Antonio will explode or what will set him off wears on Pilar and eventually drains her to the point of sheer exhaustion.
Marull delivers a carefully nuanced performance. She begins the film as a frightened animal seeking shelter but slowly her skittishness subsides as she ventures out on her own. When we see her giving a lecture on art at the museum toward the end of the film, she is like an entirely different person. But that blossoming and increased self-confidence is precisely what sets Antonio off.
Take My Eyes (in Spanish with English subtitles) is a sometimes harrowing tale yet Bollain also takes time to find moments of humor and joy. This is her third outing as a director and she reveals a fine talent for conveying the complicated emotions of her characters.
Companion viewing: Independence Day (the one with Dianne Weist as an abused wife), Mondays in the Sun -----