erasing clouds

When Violence Happens: exploring domestic violence in Icíar Bollaín’s Take My Eyes

review by anna battista

Shooting a film about domestic violence must be quite difficult: how are you going to approach this dreadful topic? Are you going to show the acts of violence? Will there be space in your film also for more positive and uplifting moments and for love? A Spanish film just released in Great Britain manages to answer all these questions and to do even more. The film is Take my Eyes (Te Doy Mis Ojos, 2003) directed by Icíar Bollaín and co-written by Bollaín and Alicia Luna. Te Doy Mis Ojos is Bollaín's third film: her filmography also includes quite a few shortcuts and two feature-length films Hola,¿Estás Sola? (1995) and Flores de Otro Mundo (1999), which won the 1999 International Critics' Award at Cannes. Bollaín's latest film is in a way a development and an in-depth analysis of the main theme, domestic violence, of her shortcut Amores Que Matan (2000).

When Take My Eyes opens, Pilar (Laia Marull) is running away from her family home with her son Juan (Nicolás Fernández Luna), after countless beatings by her husband Antonio (Luis Tosar, who also starred in Amores Que Matan). She takes refuge for a while at the house of her sister Ana (Candela Peña). Antonio starts going to an anger management group and, after a while, convinces Pilar that he has changed and that she can come back home. When she gets a job as a museum guide, though, Antonio, fearing of losing Pilar, relapses into violence. Antonio's violence, which is the product of his own fears, of the fear of even losing the monotonous stability in his life, climaxes to a brutally humiliating scene and finally shatters Pilar's dreams of leading a happy life next to the man she married and loved.

Bollaín doesn't show us much physical violence on the screen, she indeed focuses her attention on psychological violence. We don't see what Antonio does to Pilar at the beginning of the film, but we understand that there has been violence from her fearful actions and words, such as the sentence "…me he venido en zapatillas!" (I came in my slippers), that she repeats like a mantra to Ana soon after she runs away from her house and discovers she is still wearing her slippers. We understand there has been violence and there is fear in Pilar's mind when Antonio implores her to open the main gate of Ana's house and to let him in, but only manages to terrorise her more. We finally comprehend what violence has done to Pilar when she goes to the police to report Antonio and answers the policeman asking her where her husband hurt her, saying that the damages are not outside, they are not visible on her body, but they are inside her.

Take My Eyes, which features very good performances (Laia Marull's Pilar is superb) and an excellent script, has also got funny glimpses: the comradeship between Pilar and her new colleagues at the museum, their jokes and their happiness; the scene in which Pilar's mother (Rosa María Sardá) asks Ana's Scottish boyfriend where he's thinking he will be buried one day since their family tomb is quite small and there won't be place for him as well; the two men at the therapy group Antonio is attending, role-playing a short chart between husband and wife with comical results. Bollaín also presents glimpses of optimism, such as the scene in which Antonio and Pilar make love, resuming a game they used to do many years before, which consists of Pilar giving her whole body, her legs, arms, mouth, nose and eyes, as a present to Antonio.

Icíar Bollaín and Alicia Luna carried out a research on the theme of domestic violence before starting to shoot Te Doy Mis Ojos, and Luna also interviewed Spanish psychologist Enrique Etxeburua, specialised in treating men with a history of domestic violence. Their research definitely contributed to make of this film a psychological exploration of love, fear, violence, and of the contrasting emotions haunting the minds of those who perpetrate violence and of their victims.

Issue 28, November 2004

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