Open Your Eyes

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Amenábar

REVIEWED: 05-03-99

D: Alejandro Amenábar; with Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Curz, Chete Lera, Fele Martínez, Najwa Nimri, Gerard Barray. (R, 117 min.)

Winner of seven Goya Awards (Spanish Oscars), this sophomore feature by Amenábar is a deeply complex psychological mind warp of a film that begs to be viewed more than once, if only to unpeel the multiple layers of meaning that drench every scene like the webbing surrounding an arachnid's lunchtime fix. To say that this is a "thriller" hardly does Amenábar or his cast justice; Open Your Eyes is a brilliant puzzlebox caught on celluloid, beautiful to look at but difficult to figure out. Amenábar combines elements of science fiction, horror, and German Expressionism with the more traditional elements of a love story and Hitchcockian "wrong man" turns, and then somehow manages to make it all fit into a skewed sort of logic. You may not get it at first, but the effort is well worth it when you do. Noriega plays César, a wealthy young Madrid gadabout who values his looks and his libido above all else. Orphaned years before when his parents died in a car crash, he bides his time throwing lavish parties and hanging out with his best friend Pelayo (Martinez) when not busily bedding young women on a nightly basis. When his friend introduces him to the mysterious Sofia (Cruz) during a birthday party, César finds himself coolly ditching his current paramour, the feral Nuria (Nimri), in favor of this new acquisition. Little does he suspect that the night will end with them falling in love (while Pelayo stews outside, robbed of an "ideal" woman yet again by his handsome Lothario of a friend). As dawn rises and César leaves Sofia's apartment, he's accosted by Nuria, who offers him a ride home. He accepts, only to find that the spiteful woman has other plans as she careens her sportscar out of control and kills herself, leaving César to face life with a shattered face, his good looks a thing of the past. And then, strangely, César awakes to find himself in the company of a doctor in a psychiatric ward, his face covered by a bizarre mask, and intimations of murder ringing in his ears. Has César lost his mind? He recalls a team of physicians tirelessly rebuilding his cracked visage, but why then does he still need the mask? And what of Nuria, who appears to be alive and well, except for the fact that everyone but he knows her as Sofia? No written description of Open Your Eyes will do justice to this surreal, disturbing tale of dreams and nightmares, as each successive scene offers up more distressing questions than answers, deepening the mystery pool yet staying true to its own maddening internal logic. Amenábar's film does make sense, it's just not the sense of everyday life. The logic here echoes that of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (whose protagonist is also named César) and Eyes Without a Face, though Amenábar's film is wholly original. At only 25 years old, the director is being called the savior of Spanish cinema. That might not be too far off the mark if Open Your Eyes is indicative of things to come.
4.0 stars

--Marc Savlov

Capsule Reviews
Open Your Eyes

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