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Eyes of My Mother, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A different look at a different sort of character."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2016: Festivals mostly program their horror movie sidebars to start or end at midnight, figuring that the long day will have the audience in prime position to have their weary heads messed with. Sometimes, I wonder if a film like this one might be better suited to an earlier hour, when those who come out are ready to talk about what was going on rather than just slide on their way to the bed or the bar. Filmmaker Nicolas Pesce has put together an interesting look at what makes certain characters in the genre tick, even if it's just an average thriller.

Francisca (Olivia Bond) already has a somewhat unusual home life as the film opens, living on a rather isolated farm with her Portuguese-immigrant parents. Father (Paul Nazak) is a quiet man; Mother (Diana Agostini) was an eye surgeon in the old country and takes pride in illustrating the trade using the farm's cattle (she is not sentimental about livestock). One day, a predator (Will Brill) arrives on the farm, and the fallout from his attack is not simple or immediate. When a grown Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) starts venturing off the farm years later... Well, the two women she meets (Clara Wong & Flora Diaz) don't know what's coming.

Pesce jumps forward a couple of times in The Eyes of My Mother in order to allow the horrifying events that just occurred to become the new status quo, which would ideally leave the viewer a quivering mess by the end as he finds new depths to which people can sink, but it doesn't quite work that way; he has the same thing happen twice, and while the circumstances around it are different, it does mean he's repeating himself a bit. Since he's already opened the film with a flash-forward, there's not a lot of raw suspense to be had here.

On the other hand, Francisca is an often fascinating creation, a broken woman whose pathology begs to be pulled apart as the audience ponders what makes her what she is. Many films, especially those that take the perspectives of Kimiko or Lucy, might stop at the traumatic incident, but the added threads that Piece piles on - the cruel, parentally-sanctioned revenge; the blurring of the line between man and animal in her eyes combined with a clinicality handed down from her mother; a religious background warped by isolation in conflict with her sexual identity - add up to a character whose actions never feel inevitable, but aren't easily explained away as simplistic plot contrivances, either. There's a fair amount of material to unpack for a compact movie, and even though Pesce has assembled the pieces of Francisca in plain sight, the audience can still find satisfaction in disassembling the events afterward.

That Olivia Bond and Kika Magalhaes are a well-matched pair as Francisca helps, too - though there are ways in which she remains difficult to get a handle on, it does feel like one has grown up into the other (and then grown up a bit more), and Magalhaes in particular seldom lets the audience lose track of how what makes her function is not fundamentally different than others, even if her actions are way off, especially compared to how relatable Clara Wrong and Flora Diaz are opposite her. On the other side of the picture, Diana Agostini and Will Brill are particularly memorable as the two most overt influences on Francisca's later life.

Indeed, the early scenes with Brill are some genuinely creepy stuff - he may be overtly monstrous, but it's an exceptionally well-done take on the man who is very clear-eyed on how much he enjoys violence. Once Pesce flips the idea of rape as a loss of control around, though, he gets on a path of what-happens-next that just keeps taking more steps forward once he's established that the situation is messed up, and while it's kind of admirable that Pesce doesn't make the nastier parts of the film into fun, the point of all this doesn't quite leap into focus. Francisca isn't quite as interesting as a person as she is as an idea, which goes triple for the other characters, and while Pesce does build the film in such a way that not every event is inevitable or cyclical, the twisted joys of the genre are rather muted.

That leaves it a capable horror film that doesn't quite find the way to being a great one that leaves a person shivering and looking at shadows afterward. A lot of those, though, aren't nearly as much fun to talk over with friends who also have a taste for the scary stuff afterward, and "The Eyes of My Mother" promises to be a good conversation piece for years to come.

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originally posted: 05/06/16 08:59:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2016 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2016 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2016 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2016 AFI Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/24/20 Langano Odd little film. 3 stars
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Directed by
  Nicolas Pesce

Written by
  Nicolas Pesce

  Kika Magalhaes
  Will Brill
  Paul Nazak
  Flora Diaz
  Clara Wong
  Diana Agostini

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