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Julia’s Eyes (2010,Spain)

01/04/2012

Director: Guillem Morales           Starring: Belen Rueda, Lluis Homar, Pablo Derqui, Francesc Orella

I’m always a little bit cautious when I see the name of a big name director plastered over the poster for a film with the word “presents” in little letters just underneath. I always find it a little worrying that the marketeers feel it necessary to big up the producer credit at the expense of everything else, almost as if there’s nothing else worth pushing other than the fact that a famous director you may have heard of happened to like the idea enough to lend his or her name to it in order to attract attention. Obviously, this is not by any means an exclusively bad thing, on the contrary it’s a great way for an established filmmaker to give a leg up to a promising up and comer whose work they admire which can only be a responsible use of any power the more established director may have found themself with but there’s always that niggling doubt that it is little more than a marketing ploy that will leave you feeling disappointed with the end result.

In Julia’s Eyes, Julia (Rueda) is the only person who suspects her twin sister Sara’s apparent suicide is not exactly what it seems. Struggling with rapidly degenerating eyesight she is convinced there is foul play at work and becomes obsessed with tracking down a mystery man who Sara was involved with, a man so nondescript and average as to be practically invisible. As Julia is plunged ever deeper into blindness by her illness she becomes more and more aware of someone stalking her but is she really in danger or is the trauma of losing her sight causing her to hallucinate?

Guillem Morales must have felt it something of a coup to attract the attentions of his firmly established countryman Guillermo Del Toro with this, his second feature. It’s probably fair to say that without Del Toro’s name attached it is unlikely that I would have come across the film, let alone watched it. But does it live up to having such a prominent name emblazoned across its publicity? I like Del Toro’s films (at least his Spanish language ones, although I appreciate his one for the studio, one for himself work ethic) and with his name come certain expectations. Like suspense and horror.

Julia’s Eyes is certainly, at least in places, a pretty tense thriller. It has a satisfying build up of suspense from the early suicide of Julia’s sister through the stages of Julia’s investigation into her death and culminating in a pretty thrilling climax. There is enough ambiguity in the action to keep you wondering if the phenomena she experiences are real or in her mind and the mystery doesn’t unravel too soon and when it does, it makes sense, you don’t feel cheated by some sudden tangential turn or random additional character being introduced. There are points which border on pure horror (there’s nothing like seeing a syringe being plunged into an eyeball to make you squirm in your seat and set your own eyes watering) which are well handled and effectively gruesome. So far so good and on balance probably worthy of the Del Toro seal of approval.

On the downside, the plot is punctuated by some unconvincingly mawkish moments which just don’t feel right in the context of the film. They cut too much against the tone of the rest of the movie for my liking, injecting some unnecessary and frankly unwanted sentimentality into a film that should really be all about the ebb and flow of tension and suspense. Thankfully it’s not enough to derail the film completely, but I did find a couple of moments, especially one near the end, to be rather jarring.

Something I quite often see in continental European films that you would never see in Hollywood (and which I might add pleases me greatly) is the willingness to cast more mature women in leading roles. Belen Rueda would have been forty five when this film was made and with this maturity comes a certain confidence and presence that makes her character convincing. It goes without saying that the default Hollywood position for a film like this (which doubtless will be demonstrated if – or rather when – the inevitable Hollywood remake emerges) would be to cast some big breasted beauty queen barely into her twenties in a role like this, you know, to broaden the film’s demographic. As it goes, Rueda’s depiction of a woman losing her grip as the lights go out on her eyesight is very convincing, as is her determination to find out what really happened to her sister.

All in all, Julia’s Eyes is a pretty satisfying thriller that checks the majority of the right boxes. Sometimes it flirts a little too closely with devices that border a little too much on the supernatural and as I said, has a tendency for over-sentimentality at times, but inamongst that there is a decent mystery at play with some punchy action sequences thrown in to boot. While the blind protagonist thing has been done before Morales manages to find a slightly different take on it here and couples it with an interesting concept of social invisibility to make for a pretty solid (and technically proficient) experience. And it’s just possible that he has pulled off the eyeball puncturing to end all eyeball puncturings too.

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