It's a difficult charge to make a film about the struggle of someone we are supposed to hate off the bat. When Dylan Baker and Kevin Bacon stepped up to the plate to play pedophiles attempting to stop their habits, there was much flak. The idea for most is that these people are not well (or filled with the Devil, in secular terms) and therefore, we shouldn't try to see the humanity in them. It's not a healthy mindset, but it's the popular belief. Spousal abuse has been weeded out in the social eye but it still goes on all the time, it has just turned into mental abuse instead of physical (for the most part). So, you have to come prepared to Take My Eyes, for it is a film about trying to understand a man who beats his wife and a wife who believes in the goodness in him.
We meet Pilar (Laia Marull) as she is grabbing her child, clothes, and a few belongings. She escapes to her sister's house, who quickly understands the problem: Pilar's husband, Antonio (Luis Tosar). Pilar's sister, Ana (Candela Peña), confronts Antonio when he comes home to find his wife and son gone and his sister-in-law packing up some remaining items. Antonio tries to get back with Pilar and begins to go to group therapy for spousal abuse. Soon enough, they are back together, much to the chagrin of Ana. At first, their restarted life is full of passion and love, just like when they were dating. Pilar takes a job as an art museum tour guide and cashier with her friends Rosa and Lola (Kiti Manver and Elisabet Gelabert, respectively) and Antonio attempts to find the roots of his anger. Soon enough, however, Antonio's anger begins to show its ugly head.
The film radiates a strong fascination, powered by the complex mission of trying to understand Antonio. In the sessions with his psychologist and the group meetings, Antonio shows a real wanting to move forward and work on his problem, while the others goof off and tell horror stories about "no dinner on the table." It's dazzlingly authentic and Tosar handles the complex layers of Antonio's psyche with unyielding power. Marull is his challenge-meeting equal, not shying away from the scared rabbit that Antonio's intense physical and emotional battering has turned her into. In the film's strongest scene, we see Antonio's rage released, stripping Pilar down to only a bra and shoving her onto the porch for the neighborhood to see. What makes it so scary is that we've seen Antonio be balanced and attempt to change. He's not the evil-incarnate husband from Enough, but rather a real human being who hates himself and releases his insecurities by putting them on Pilar.
Take My Eyes won the Goya in 2004 (the Spanish version of the Academy Awards). It's interesting to see the differences in what the different countries award in excellence. While we pick sweeping multi-narrative social statements like Crash, they give it to quietly devastating character studies like this and the upcoming The Secret Life of Words. The film does deliver social commentary but in a way that we rarely see here in the states. Instead of trying to take on the issue in mass, director Icíar Bollaín looks at a situation that sees the problem with honest eyes, not trying to push an answer or agenda, just trying to find the keys to the characters and the story. These kinds of films are hard to keep out of your mind.
Aka Te doy mis ojos.