My notes on The Eyes of My Mother, which opens this week.A chilly, black and white rural gothic whose central character unusually mashes up the beautiful-woman-going-crazy figure of Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion with the Ed Gein-style farmer-surgeon assembling a family substitute through abduction, surgery and (in the end) murder. Divided into three acts, it’s remote from its central character – giving plenty of hints as to why she might be demented, but not really explaining much about her mental state or – sometimes – even specifying what exactly has happened on her farm.
Sometime in the past – judging by TV clips from Bonanza and House on Haunted Hill, the film spans the 1950s and early 1960s – young Francisca (Olivia Bond) lives on a remote farm with her ex-surgeon mother (Diana Agostini) and tactiturn father (Paul Nazak). Among themselves, the family speak Portuguese – and there’s a mystery as to why the high-flying woman, who demonstrates her scalpel techniques on a severed cow’s head in the dining room, has buried herself here. Normally in the movies, unwary visitors to places like this are innocents who get chained up and tortured – the twist here is that Charlie (Will Brill), the stranger who shows up, is a serial killer who murders Francisca’s mother, and is then chained and kept by her father. Disturbingly, the little girl says she won’t kill him because he’s her only friend.
Fifteen years later, the blinded, emaciated murderer is still on the farm and Francisca has grown up (now played by the exquisite Kika Magalhaes) into a strange young woman who shares a seemingly chaste bed with her father (who dies or might have been dead a while). She is tiring of her friend, though – and makes an attempt to branch out by picking up a girl (Clara Wong) in a c&w bar (we only see the outside and hear Leon Payne’s wittily grim ‘Psycho’ – a 1968 song – playing), which doesn’t pan out well. Giving Charlie a bath also leads to a crisis, and Francisca is soon looking for another human prop to assuage her loneliness – leading to the third act, five years on, with another captive in the barn and a wide-eyed little boy (Joey Curtis-Green) who has been raised as the strange woman’s child.
Written and directed by Nicholas Pesce, this is perhaps a little too oblique and arty for its own good, though its slightly pretentious stabs at poetic style don’t take away from how good Magalhaes is in the difficult role of a cracked heroine. There has been a resurgence of this sort of cracked female psyche cinema lately (cf: Sunchoke, Goddess of Love, Darling, The Loved Ones, Magic Magic), often with extremes of violence committed by blankly beautiful or striking women who are twisted by being forced into feminine role model stereotypes like farm-wife, dutiful daughter, cute sweetheart or even brittle neurotic. This adds in a festering rural backwoods feel, though the gorgeous monochrome look goes for the magical feel of Night of the Hunter rather than the downhome grunge of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.