Wednesday, November 1, 2017

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2016) movie review

The Eyes of My Mother (2016) d. Pesce, Nicolas (USA) (2nd viewing) 76 min

In their secluded farmhouse, a mother (Diana Agostini), formerly a surgeon in Portugal, teaches her young daughter, Francisca (Olivia Bond), to understand anatomy and be unfazed by death. One afternoon, a visit from a mysterious gentleman named Charlie (Will Brill) shatters the family’s life, deeply traumatizing the young girl, but also awakening unique curiosities about the human condition and the skin it travels around in. As she grows into adulthood, while still clinging to her increasingly withdrawn father (Paul Nazak), Francisca’s (now played by the astonishing Kika Magalhaes) loneliness and emotionally stunted outlook on the world lead her to strive for connection in haunting, twisted, unspeakably disturbing ways.

Like Nikos Nikolaidis’ breathtaking and unclassifiable masterpiece Singapore Sling, writer/director Pesce’s assured feature debut is shot in crisp black and white and employs incredibly composed tableaus (cinematographer Zach Kuperstein's mind-blowing opening high-angle shot, for example), setting an elevated tone from the outset. While some might ascribe this to arty-ness for arty-ness’ sake or a desire to be “taken seriously,” it actually serves the purpose of emotionally preparing the viewer for the horrors to come – by creating distance through the monochromatic artifice and muting our knee-jerk shock/revulsion at some of the more startling concepts or imagery, it allows us to venture closer, to lean forward, to engage and relate with these "monsters" on their own terms.

Though I first encountered Mother at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival earlier this year, I was not able to view it on the big screen or with a crowd (it screened before my arrival, so my only option was to watch it on the press room computers).Even within that smaller format, it instantly made an impact and I found myself enjoying that rare sensation of already looking forward to watching it again before we were even halfway through.

So it was my great pleasure to witness it as it was intended on a cold late October evening in the presence of the like-minded at DePaul University’s “Horror of the Humanities V,” hosted by the inimitable H. Peter H. Steeves, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the DePaul Humanities Center, with Pesce in attendance.

To experience a film through Steeves’ lens is to connect with it deeper and fuller than one would have thought possible; it’s akin to receiving a crash course in cinema appreciation, as if to say, “this is merely watching a film whereas this is SEEING a film.” At previous HOTH installments, I have taken in Kill List, Antiviral, and Pontypool – all films I had seen and enjoyed before – but listening to Steeves’ post-screening analysis is to be transported to another realm, deeper, more nuanced, and it is a happening for which I am always grateful.

To then share the space as he and Pesce discussed the themes of Eyes of My Mother for 90 minutes (longer than the film itself), listening to these big brained goliaths tangle and tussle the ripest fruit from the topmost branches… it was an experience I’ll not soon forget. (Next year, Steeves will be screening Robert Eggers’ The VVitch, with the director on hand – mark your calendars now, Chicago horror fans.)


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