Sunday, February 5, 2017

Women in Horror: The Eyes of My Mother

* spoilers *

The Eyes of My Mother follows Francisca and her struggle to connect with others from childhood to adulthood. As a child, she was very close to her mother, who used to be an eye surgeon in Portugal. Together, they would care for the animals on their farm and her mother would hand down stories of St. Francis of Assisi. The mother recognized that her child had morbid fascinations and directed them to caring for animals and learning about their anatomy instead of letting it get to the point of harming animals to see their insides. This period of happiness ends when her mother is murdered.

A travelling salesman name Charlie who seems off comes to their house and asks to use the bathroom. This scene made me feel so uncomfortable because a woman alone or with a child is vulnerable in situations like this. She can say no and risk that he's going to attack anyway. This is especially hard because women are conditioned to be polite first and look after their own well being second. Or she could say yes and hope he will be true to his word even though his entire demeanor is screaming that he won't be. She decides to let him in and she is predictably killed while her daughter sits quietly in the kitchen. This scene is particularly chilling because the murder can only be heard. We see a brief glimpse of the carnage when Francisca's father comes home, dispatches the man, and imprisons him in an empty barn.

After the murder, Francisca helps her father bury her mother and then moves on to value Charlie as someone to connect with. Using the knowledge learned from her mother, she removes his eyes and vocal chords. During this time, her father is distraught, but only expresses his grief alone. In one poignant scene, he cries in the bathtub where he is most vulnerable and alone. This type of scene is usually reserved for women, but it's used here to show he has emotion that's not apparent in everyday life. Around Francisca, he's cold and in control, but distant. He feels he should be strong for her and views emotion as weakness. Over the years, they go through the motions of their relationship listening to music, dancing together, and eating together without emotion or connection. He chooses to turn a blind eye to her disturbing relationship with Charlie.

Francisca provides Charlie food and water and is the only one to interact him for a number of years. Of course he eagerly awaits her arrival because she holds his survival in her hands. When he eats or drinks, she strokes his hair and treats him like she would an animal even though she claims he is her friend. In her delusion, Francisca seems to think that he genuinely cares for her which is proven wrong when he tries to escape one night. She chooses to kill him and then her father. It isn't revealed that she killed her father until later in the film, but it makes sense because of his emotional distance. She continues to go through the motions of their time together listening to music, eating with him, and even bathing him. To her, their time is the same as if he were alive. After she is forced to be rid of his body due to decomposition, Francisca looks for another companion.

Francisca's first attempt at connecting with someone else involves going to a bar and picking up a college student named Kumiko. This is the first indication that this film is in any way modern because the film is in black and white and their house looks stuck in time in the 50's or so. Anyway, the two women flirt and get to know each other a bit until Francisca admits that she helped bury her mother and killed her father. Kumiko is understandably freaked out and tries to leave, but Francisca kills her before she can. This attempt at a relationship makes sense because the only person she felt genuinely connected to was her mother. Since this didn't work, she tries becoming a mother instead.

While walking in the woods, Francisca gets a ride back her house by Lucy accompanied by her baby son. Francisca asks invasive questions and wants to hold the child. Lack of experience interacting with people and ignorance of social conventions makes her very offputting, but Lucy answers Francisca's questions and allows her to hold the baby anyway. Part of this was likely motivated by not wanting to be impolite, but part was also probably assessing that Francisca is not much of a threat as a woman. Francisca proves her wrong by overpowering her and kidnapping her infant son. Her eyes and vocal chords are removed and she's left chained up in the empty barn like Charlie. This aspect of the film proves to be her undoing, but I can understand her thought process a bit. Francisca's mother was murdered when she was young and she doesn't want to do that to someone else, so she keeps the mother incapacitated.

Francisca assumes the role of mother and raises the boy she names Antonio until he's around 6 or 8. This relationship fills the need for connection and allows her to assume the role of her mother for someone else. At least that's what I assume since she didn't kill him like all of her other attempts. They seem to have a normal relationship and he is unaware of her murderous past and his real mother's fate for years. Antonio finds Lucy in the forbidden barn and frees her, leading to the police storming their house. It's unclear if Francisca planned to kill Antonio or not, but either way, she is killed by police before she can. On one had, Francisca was psychotic and murderous. On the other, she was a lonely person seeking to replicate the only meaningful relationship she ever had that was ripped away from her at a young age. Kika Magalhaes portrays Francisca in a way that was obviously offputting but also sympathetic in a weird way.

The Eyes of My Mother is a beautiful film for all of its horror. The black, white, and grey tones are stark and otherworldly feeling. The violence is never the focus of any scene. We always see the prelude and the aftermath, but never the actual event. This technique gives the film a deceptively peaceful quality and allows the audience's minds to fill in the missing pieces in a way that's much more terrifying than any filmmaker could create. The film run time is oddly short at 77 minutes, but another technique makes it feel so much longer. Each scene is uncomfortably long as it would happen in real life instead of being designed for a film. It gives a voyeuristic quality to the film that makes me feel like I shouldn't be watching. It's not for everyone, but it's a striking and memorable experience.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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