Review: Close Your Eyes
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2023: Spanish super-auteur Víctor Erice returns, laying bare his absolute love of cinema in more or less every frame
The number of years since Víctor Erice finalised his previous feature is 31 (if the film in question is the 1992 documentary Dream of Light) or possibly 41 (El Sur, 1982), if one counts fiction features. Monday night’s Debussy Theatre world premiere of Close Your Eyes [+see also:
film profile], part of the Cannes Première section, was accordingly packed – with expectation and beholders alike. The attendees included international colleagues of the 82-year-old Spanish super-auteur, such as Amat Escalante, Gilles Marchand, Nicolas Saada and Hirokazo Kore-Eda, all having secured a seat for this singular experience (even outshining Scorsese this time around?). Notably absent was Erice himself. Opening-night nerves? Seeing your offspring flying out into the world can be hard, with decades of build-up at that.
In fact, the opening scene goes all the way back to 1947, somewhere outside of Paris, where a portly, silk-robed fellow in Arab headwear (a wonderfully Sydney Greenstreet-like Josep Maria Pou) languishes in his moth-eaten chateau, catered to by a stoney-faced Chinese servant. A rare visitor appears, summoned in order to travel to Shanghai to bring home the daughter of the robed recluse – a proper Chandleresque scenario, straight out of a 1940s Warner Bros flick. It turns out this footage is indeed a film-within-this-film, The Farewell Gaze, shot around 1990 and aborted owing to the mysterious disappearance of the lead actor, Julio Arenas (José Coronado), never seen again since – which more or less made the film’s director and Julio’s best friend, Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo, playing a likely Erice alter ego), shy away from directing and lead a reclusive existence in the decades to come.
In 2012, which is when the main story takes place, this old footage has been dug up for a TV show about unsolved cases, focusing on Julio with an initially reluctant Miguel participating (the remuneration helps). A journey into the past kicks off, with its fair share of reunions: Miguel meets up again with Julio’s daughter Ana (Ana Torrent, herself reuniting with Erice after her seminal performance at the age of five in The Spirit of the Beehive in 1973); he seeks out his, and also Julio’s, old Argentinian flame Lola (Soledad Villamil); and then there’s his trusty cinephile friend Max (Mario Pardo), who knows all there ever was to know about old prints, projection machines, Nicholas Ray posters and Carl Th Dreyer miracles. There’s also… Julio himself, very much alive, pining away at a rural retirement home, stricken by amnesia.
Yet again, the old footage will play a crucial part, perhaps even inducing a Dreyer miracle, affecting and resurrecting several of those involved – not least Víctor Erice himself. His absolute love of cinema (utterly reciprocated by the premiere audience) is present in more or less every frame of the probably trimmable 169-minute playing time, for which Mr E is wholly pardoned. After all this time, he certainly deserves the chance to spread out a bit.
Close Your Eyes was produced by Spain’s Tandem Films, Nautilus Films, Pecado Films and La mirada del adios AIE, as well as Argentina’s Pampa Films. Its international sales are handled by Film Factory Entertainment.
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