The Eyes of My Mother is an incredibly crazy movie, about being absolutely insane. The film explores tales of a psychotic little girl who through traumatic experiences grows into a monster. This comes to us from the unique mind of Nicolas Pesce who served this film as both writer and director. Pesce gives us a bizarre tale that might be of some interest if you’re willing to look further down the tortured story of Francisca. The Eyes of My Mother certainly provides a good discussion on both film techniques and defining art house films if you can sit through the certainly wild ride.
The visual presentation of this film is downright stunning. The film focuses upon a Chiaroscuro lighting design, which is essentially going one step further than your typical black and white but a dramatic contrast between these two opposites.
“Chiaroscuro lighting is an artistic term dating back to the Renaissance that is noted by the contrast between dark and light. It is often times used in a bold manner so that it has a noticeable and dramatic effect on the entire composition of a work” – What is Film Noir
The lighting design not only makes the film visually distinct but allows for these dynamic images to take place such as the one above. For this film to have color would ultimately detract away from the overall composition and is unnecessary due to the overall dullness of most of the featured locations. The film’s visuals often produce a sense of emptiness achieving this through not only by being devoid of colors but the bareness of the set designs and the distant shot composition. A central theme of the film is that of loneliness, and the film can portray this with limited dialogue. I think the distant shots that make-up the film add scope to the isolation the character resides in. While it can be seen as defining the world of the narrative it can be criticized for hindering a sense of perspective.
you don’t see her from a subjective point-of-view, but rather from the perspective of a distant, omniscient observer…But most of the time, it’s unclear who’s in charge: an authorial voice or a singular character.” – Simon Abrams. Robertebert.com
The film has an easily identifiable psychological element to it that the visuals are impressive in being additive but doesn’t exactly display the inner workings of the character to expand the story. The cinematography has a distinct appeal to it and does work its way into become involved in the viewing experience that has incorporated into the deeming of this film into the title of art house.
Is the Film Art House?
It seems that the consensus for this film is that it is classified under an art house film which is one that I politely disagree with. I think there are three ways to view films that are deemed to have artistic merit: Auteur, art house, or artistic. Auteur, was a film theory invented by film critic Andrew Sarris. Auteur essentially credits the director as the ultimate voice of the film and through multiple means of film-making displays a unique style possessed by that director.
“In other words, such fundamental visual elements as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length, rather than plot line, convey the message of the film. Supporters of the auteur theory further contend that the most cinematically successful films will bear the unmistakable personal stamp of the director”
The most noticeable auteur directors include Wes Anderson and Tim Burton. While The Eyes of My Mother director, Nicolas Pesce does display an attempt to show driven stylistic choices the classification of Auteur is often reserved to work is recognizable and shares common elements which transcends each of their films. This being the current sole director credit on Pesce’s IMDb page it would be too soon to identify if it would be his personal distinct style. Then we have art house which is described best as:
“Art house is a film genre which encompasses films where the content and style – often artistic or experimental – adhere with as little compromise as possible to the filmmakers’ personal artistic vision. The narrative is often in the social realism style with a focus on the characters’ contemplation of their existence or immediate concerns” – Wonderful Cinema
Well, there you have it this is what this film is without a doubt. The cinematography definitely proves how the film is artistic and as both the writer and director without a major studio Pesce clearly isn’t being interfered with. The film greatly explores the existence of this woman and the constant immediate concerns that appear in front of her with no larger goal or obstacle present. Art house films often are perceived as confusing for their free reign exploration of the medium and Pesce certainly appears to agree that’s what he’s doing.
“keeps people asking questions and then in addition create this other layer of atmospheric mood manipulation, it’s like a magic trick. If I do my job correctly, you don’t know how you feel when the movie’s done, but you know you felt something, and the fact that you can’t pinpoint how you felt is fascinating” -Nicolas Pesce
The film even seems to feature a subtle reference to the short film by Luis Buñuel and surreal artist Salvador DalÍ (The Persistence of Memory or better known as the melting clocks) Un Chien Andalou. The reference comes in an early scene which the mother dissects a cow’s eye and makes note of how a cow’s eye is the most similar to a human eye (in the surreal film, it appears as if a woman gets her eye slit open, an effect pulled off by using a close -up of a cow eye).
So, why would I question this in the first place? That’s because I wish to personally place a distinguish a difference between an art house film and an artistic film. An example of a true art house film would be Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up. This film makes it clear that it throws conventions out the window and through all means of execution attempts to be something with the intent of producing art. Blow Up is undeniable chock-full of various symbolism, lacking structure, and uses techniques of: editing, cinematography, and acting to provoke the audience to do some thinking. The Eyes of My Mother doesn’t display the same openness as a film like Blow-Up or other perceived art house films. The Eyes of My Mother still has a definitive story to it structured with clear book-ends and with the bareness of the overall composition there isn’t much to lead into interpretation. I would argue that art house films are made with the attention of producing art something viewed to elicit a certain interpretive analysis. Rather than being a film of art, do I find that this an example of the art of film.
While Pesce has certainly displayed statement about displaying an art house outlook the way he describes the use of violence in his film highlights an outstanding understanding of using the film as a medium.
“I don’t have to show you any of the violence or make it gory. You connect the dots in your head and make it far worse than anything I could have done on screen”
With the way Pesce discusses this it feels very reminiscent to the Psycho shower scene nudity debate. Through the parallelism of shots/events, the chiaroscuro lighting, the editing, acting and other methods does it feels that the deconstruction of this film isn’t how it’s interpreted but how it’s executed. These elements also come across as not adding to the overall effect of the piece but rather assisting in constructing upon the narrative of the story. So, am I right, and everyone else wrong? No, this is how I personally choose to categorize these films and if you want to make a distinction due to these narrow differences or lump them together is a matter of opinion. Whether it be by genre or by other classifications it’s important to recognize why we define these things as such and what exactly earns a film that classification.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Did I mention that this film is absolutely insane? This also means that we’re going to go into some plot points/spoilers so if you’d rather skip to the next section or finish the review after witnessing for yourself the sheer madness. But before you go be warned that there is some disturbing and unsettling imagery in this film. So, the film is separated into chapters which you’ll catch on quickly is a precursor of who’s about to die. The inciting incident in this journey towards hell is a visit by a man (featured above) who I guess is a door to door salesman but just looking at this guy does he not look like an escaped mental patient. He pulls a gun out and asks the mother to follow him to the bathroom and then bad things occur. The dad comes home and brings an end to whatever is happening you never really get a good look at it which is genius as being left with your own imagination works well in these types of situation. This first chapter is maybe supposed to foreshadow how Francisca’s upbringing might have warped her into what she later becomes but this chapter is so brief that to come to these assumptions are reduced to grasping at straws. The closest we come to this is when the mother’s assailant who now is chained up in her barn is being patched up by Francisca who confesses to him that he is her only friend.
Chapter two roles along entitled father and guess who’s about to croak. Francisca wakes to find her father has peacefully died in his sleep. While I’m preparing for a touching seen of Francisca burying her father next to her mother and pondering how to cope with the tragedy of her life. Or we could instead just go into full Norman Bates territory bathing, setting up, and interacting with the corpse of her deceased parent. It’s at this point that the film reveals its biggest problem. The film is one shocking incident after another to the point where you not only become desensitized to the surprise of it but it gets very predictable. The film could have used more scenes such as the one in which Francisca tries to branch out and reconnect with the outside world. In doing so she apparently meets an Asian girl and brings her back to the house.
Here’s an image from the scene and right away I can identify that there are two ways/ things that can play out in this scene and both of them end up happening. I’m sure you can also make a logical guess on what happens in this scene. Continuing on Francisca recedes back to the man in the barn and caresses him. In the end, this man breaks free but like the wounded animal he has become he slowly marches into the distance only to be caught easily by Francisca. Francisca is now truly alone.
The third and final chapter is entitled the family and it starts out it Francisca hitch-hitching and being picked up by a mother and her baby. Anyone who’s paid attention thus far can clearly identify that bad things are going to happen. Francisca chains the mother up in the barn and the way it’s presented reminds me off the ending to Satanic another film I’ve reviewed. In Satanic the execution of this seen is so poorly done that not only am I not scared and thinking of what joke could I add to my review but I thought it made the concept of the scene inherently not that terrifying. The similar concept finds its way into this film and it is truly chilling, and demented in just how it was portrayed that it can certainly give a person goosebumps. These scenes are terrifying and the details and nuances of how we’re seeing it is what deserves praise as it is crafted very well. Things don’t end so well for our main character as the mother eventually escapes, which causes the police to come and finally end her reign of terror. The ending is neither grand or unpredictable. It plays out how it should and brings a sense of closure to the whole story. There’s a nice scene towards the end in which Francisca weeps to the corpse of her deceased mother that she wishes she could just be with them again. While I wouldn’t say an audience should be sympathy for the deranged killer it does suffice as this nice moment of empathy in which the audience can relate their own feelings or fears of lost and loneliness. While it might seem that I only covered the main events this is really all that happens. The film feels incredibly short and this hurts as the film lacks a rhythm to its pacing. The film is either tremendously momentous scenes or slow paced, drawn out events. Without anything happening in-between these events in the film do these events lose their shock value and eventually plays into the audience’s expectations. The story feels basic and with the smaller production crew it makes sense as this film gives off the same feel as a student production which due to larger responsibilities does focus on production and not having flaws little faults like this occur.
The Eyes of My Mother is an interesting film that admittedly I have mixed opinions about. I found it to not be a bad effort in that performances and production is honestly very impressive but at the same time is either lacking subtle production elements to be a provoking art house film or added subtle story elements to make an interesting narrative. I think once you get passed the insanity of it all, there is something great at work on this film. As for recommendations, I would say if you’re a considered film-maker or find pleasure in the aspects of making a film I think this film is exemplary of many pieces that make cinema great. If you consider yourself an average movie watcher I think I would steer clear of this one as the story is not the strongest factor in this film. This is what I took away when I decided to stare into The Eyes of My Mother.
Images featured are from:
The Eyes of My Mother (2016) [Credit: Borderline Presents/Tandem Pictures]
Blow-Up (1966) [credit: MGM/Bridge Films]
Un Chien Andalou (1929) [credit: Luis Buñuel and Salvador DalÍ]