Wednesday, 6 March 2013


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1997 - Spain (CANAL+ España, Las Producciones del Escorpión S.L, Les Films Alain Sarde) 

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Amenábar
SCRIPT: Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil
MUSIC: Alejandro Amenábar, Mariano Marín

     As it happens I am now currently watching the whole run of Twin Peaks on DVD and I can't escape the feeling that those posts of mine here, on this blog, seem to be falling more and more into the Log Lady Intros pattern. Unclear message, vaguely relating to the reviewed film, a bit of a drivel, really. And that's on a good day, otherwise it's just a repetitorium of 'my expectations against reality' routine. I guess there is only as much originality in the world and most of it is elsewhere anyway.

And so, this time...

                            ...we'll go all over it again. But at least I've got an excuse. First, I don't like Spanish cinema that much (not from what I've experienced of it so far) which, admittedly, has a lot to do with  overreacting women shouting a lot, because Pedro Almodóvar told them to. And second, I have already seen one Amenábar's film and absolutely hated it (how lucky, how very lucky of us that THE SEA INSIDE did not make it to the book!). So, as you can surely appreciate, the forecast was not so good. On the other hand, I was desperate to finally find a Spanish film I would actually like (unless we 'forget' that PAN'S LABYRINTH is a co-production and call it Spanish) so I think it is fairly important that I do stress, that my prejudice in this case was not taking over. It was there, true enough, but I've done the best I could not to cloud my vision. Which doesn't matter anyway, because it is a good film and I'm always willing to give credit where credit's due. Not as good as many critics would have you believe, but I'm happy to announce that finally I've found a Spanish film that I like. There. I said it.

One word of warning though. So far I have tried almost maniacally to avoid spoilers that (in my belief) could seriously diminish the pleasure of watching any of the reviewed films. As it turns out, it may not always be possible. Apart from the English title faintly ringing a bell, I knew nothing about ABRE LOS OJOS and if you want to fully enjoy it, that's exactly how you should take it. And for that very reason I have also decided not to mention a certain Hollywood remake since even the people who have not seen it could still have come across the synopsis. It may look like a lot of fuss from me here but trust me, if you want to watch this film and enjoy it in full extent, stop reading

With that out of the way, knowing full well there's no one left to read these words any more/everybody ignored my warning, I can stop pratting about as if I was being paid for the word count and try to be constructive. This shouldn't take too long, actually.
To my initial horror, the film starts exactly as I would expect from a Spanish film. People talk loud and fast, emotions are supposed to be intense (or at least the expression of emotions is, well, expressive), it's all about  strong personalities, unhealthy love and dramatic drama. Let's face it, in terms of predictability, at that stage it didn't seem to score higher than an elevator ride. Yes, there were some elements that didn't really fit, giving the slight feel if incompetence maybe; the dreams that don't seem to have any significance for the plot, the cheap New Age gobbledygook about god, spirit and materialism, the artificially complicated relationship between César and the psychiatrist... And then it actually got worse, with even more and more signs that what I had in front of me, Ladies and Gentlemen, was not only a tedious bit of cinema, but a film that is also not very well scripted. César's descend into madness was not very convincing to say the least, his visit to the police station was nothing short of ridiculous. At the same time the role of the cryonics enterprise Life Extension for the plot was becoming more and more obtrusive hinting at some (most likely) pretentious involvement in the grand finale.

Or so I thought.

The last half an hour, thankfully, brings a twist. And when I say twist, I don't mean a twist, like when you cross your fingers. It's more like 'I thought it was a drama but it turned out to be sci-fi' kind of twist. Wait, no... It's not 'kinda-lika'. That is EXACTLY the twist in ABRE LOS OJOS. Not a blaster-wielding, star-fighter-soaring, android-infested, alien-stroking type of sci-fi, but a science fiction nevertheless. And let me throw in another bucket-load of spoilers and add, that we've got MATRIX (1999) here, we've got INCEPTION (2010), and even a little bit of THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). Only just I should present it other way round since ABRE LOS OJOS was released in 1997 and was influencing others rather than draw inspiration... 
It doesn't make it automatically a great addition to the sci-fi lore, I must add. Personally I wouldn't probably even list it as such, with the sci-fi element being limited purely to the idea somewhat BEHIND the plot-line whereas the science fiction proper does require the use of all the adherent props and scenography. After all, the NEVERENDING STORY is by all means a fantasy film, not merely a film about a boy reading a book... And for that reason, the main bulk of the story, even though is necessary to build up the foundations for the big reveal at the end does feel a bit banal and overwhelmingly unbalanced. Yes, it has fooled me enough, that I couldn't see the tricky end coming, but for most of the time I was quite bored and mildly frustrated. It's almost as if Amenábar was so focused on his big surprise, he couldn't be bothered to make the main story more engaging. Or maybe it's just me? Maybe Almodóvar's enthusiasts will be more than happy? Who knows, maybe they're even disappointed that the whole film is not just about Penélope Cruz in a drama-filled toss-up between the geeky and sincere Pelayo and handsome/disfigured, vain but rich César? Maybe. It's not my problem though. But that lack of balance and attention here and there is the biggest, if not only, criticism I have here. And, you know, I like being critical about Spanish cinema (which comes easy, when you know it so little, as I do...)
All in all, despite being a little bit rough round the edges I do believe ABRE LOS OJOS is a significant film and definitely worth watching.  Its influence stretches well beyond what you might expect from only a second picture of a Spanish director that not so many people have heard of before. It's still full of elements I'm not, shall we say, fond of, but at the same time is good enough to see beyond that. If I'd seen it back then, in 1997, I probably would have been quite excited about what Amenábar's artistic future would bring. Such a shame, in Anno Domini 2013, I already know that he is responsible for one of my most hated films ever. Now, how's that for a twisted ending, huh?

Get it on AMAZON

Previously on 1001 FILMS TO SEE AND NOT DIE: A One And A Two (Yi Yi) - Edward Yang, 2000
Next on the list: An Actor's Revenge (Yukinojo Henge) - Kon Ichikawa, 1963
And after that: The Actress (Yuen Ling-Yuk) - Stanley Kwan, 1992

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