Life is never so simple as black and white. It is complicated and conflicted and events are driven not by a single cause, the responses of those who are affected as equally complex. Filmed in stark monochrome, The Eyes of My Mother, debut film of writer/director Nicolas Pesce does not seek to rationalise or justify, nor to minimise or sensationalise the tragedy which informs the life of Francisca, simply depict the consequences across time.
She was only a child (Olivia Boand), attentive to her beloved mother (Diana Agostini) the day the man (Gotham’s Will Brill) came calling at their remote farmhouse. Pushy, rude, he called himself Charlie, he lied to gain entry into their house and he pulled a gun when he was asked to leave. Father (Paul Nazak) arrived home too late to intervene.
Having scrubbed the bathroom floor clean, an action that will echo throughout her life, Francisca’s days are sunshine and fields and flowers, but her nights are shadow and shade. She dances with her father to Fado, the mournful music of mother’s ancestral homeland in her honour, they bathe in the bathtub in which her body was found.
On the border between these two worlds is the barn where the obscenity is kept, the sunlight which falls between the wooden slats creating a patchwork no man’s land where morality is ambiguous at best, feeding the thing, tending the wounds she herself has inflicted.
“Why would I kill you?” Francisca whispers in the half light. “You’re my only friend.”
Now an adult (City of Gold’s Kika Magalhaes), Francisca has an ordered life which can continue only in the relative isolation which is thrown into disarray when father dies. Suddenly an orphan left alone in the world, she does not know what to do and so continues as she has done. She scrubs the floor. She prepares fresh meat. She seeks comfort.
With only fragments of her life visible, on whose values can Francisca be judged? With the implication being that she has barely known another person beyond the croft, her only companion the television showing The Last Man on Earth, The Eyes of My Mother is an impartial depiction of grief, the inability to move past terrible overwhelming loss, the displacement of emotional attachment; predictably, it can be difficult viewing.
Her mother having wanted her to be a surgeon, does she blind her victims because her mother spoke of the anatomy of the eye, or so that none can bear witness to her actions, silence them so they cannot speak? Instead it is the viewer who is forced to watch, helpless observers as she stalks the grounds of her home in continuous long shot.
Admirably single minded in her pursuit, indoors the wide frames are only half filled, the doors open to unseen rooms, while outdoors she is a tiny figure framed against the immensity of nature, of the world, every moment clinically documented by Zach Kuperstein’s crisp photography, yet still she dances.
With her own understanding of her actions and purpose unexamined, Francisca herself remains oblique, though the film itself is presented without ambiguity, there being no hint that events are fantastical or open to interpretation by the viewer. The final scenes feeling constructed to bring a swift rather than an organic conclusion as though Pesce was not sure how better to proceed, it is not a perfect film, but it is certainly an interesting and moving one.
Having screened at the Sundance and London Film Festivals, The Eyes of My Mother is in cinemas from Friday 24th March