Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut The Eyes of My Mother presents scenes that are all disturbing. The black-and-white horror film is a fever dream of sorts that depicts a tragedy that occurs to a young girl’s family during her childhood and the resulting loneliness that lingers into the girl’s adulthood.
Francisca (Olivia Boand/Kika Magalhaes), the girl, lived with her mother and father in a small house within the forest. Her mother (Diana Agostini), a surgeon, taught Francisca about anatomy. She spent most of her time with her mother- her father (Paul Nazak) a neglectful figure. One day, a man, Charlie (Will Brill), arrives at their house. He asks Francisca’s mother if her husband is home and to let him inside to use the restroom. He proceeds to brutally murder Francisca’s mother once he is inside their house. In his only scene of characterization, Francisca’s father tells Francisca to help him bury her mother and clean her blood from the floor. Charlie is detained by Francisca’s father in their shed and Francisca spends time with him since she feels isolated without her mother.
Francisca asks Charlie what it feels like to kill and his raspy voice answers that it feels amazing. He asks her if she is to kill him and she says she can’t because he is her only friend. Likely to ensure that he remains with her undetected, she stitches his eyes shut and removes his vocal chords, a practice she continues on later victims. In time, Francisca’s father dies and she is truly alone. She attempts to bring home a woman from the city, but she is unable to socialize in a manner that is socially-acceptable. The woman feels a sense of danger and is abruptly executed, leaving Francisca alone, again.
We know that Francisca is horribly, horribly mentally ill, but we are not provided with much insight into her mind- only her demented actions are emphasized. We can only assume she commits vehement acts in response to the one committed by Charlie early in her childhood. After a time, we feel little emotional impact or connection with her character or her victims. The thought ‘that’s messed up’ occurs frequently, but we can generally predict the next disturbing scene before it occurs.
The Eyes of My Mother features cold, precise acting, excellent cinematography, and graphic depictions of violence. However, an excess of visual motifs, repeated cinematography techniques, and the fact that certain characters are given names and others aren’t, convey that the film is intended to inspire thought into its meaning and allow for a deeper interpretation; however, there is not much to be gained due to the vague and minimalist nature of the film. Is the film intended to be a statement about isolation? Religion? Family? I cannot tell.
Interior shots and the use of steep contrast in black-and-white filming are reminiscent of Tarr’s films. Religious imagery is reminiscent of Bergman’s. Charlie’s feigned politeness in his home invasion is all too familiar to Paul and Peter in Haneke’s Funny Games. The film’s separation into parts (“Mother”, “Father”, and “Family”) relating to traumatic events is reminiscent to the way Lars Von Trier frequently structures his films. For the moment, Pesce is a cinephile’s director. To be certain, his inspirations are excellent. He loves his films, but perhaps does not yet know how to make a film of his own.