117 minutes

Again co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, Los Ojos de Julia attemps to recreate the conditions that made Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage an international success: the same producers and most of the same crew, the same leading lady (the wondrous Belén Rueda), even the same premise of a distressed woman haunted by inexplicable events no one else but her witnesses. Yet director and co-writer Guillem Morales steers his sophomore feature away from a supernatural mystery into a smartly handled update of the Italian shockers known as giallo, only one bled of all garish colour, as befits the story of a woman slowly going blind.

     Mr Morales structures the film as a game of two halves. In the first, he builds a crime thriller around astronomer Julia (Ms Rueda) as she learns of the apparent suicide of her sister, gone blind from the incurable, progressive eye disease passed on to both women, and investigates the circumstances much to the displeasure of her psychiatrist husband Isaac (the ever reliable Lluís Homar). The events lead her own sight to deteriorate to the point she must undergo an eye transplant to restore her vision, and in the second half Julia is now effectively "in the dark" while recovering from the surgery. This is where the film switches gears into a psychological two-hander that puts the viewer in the disorienting footsteps of Julia herself, as she learns to navigate her condition with the help of kind home nurse Iván (Pablo Derqui).

     The director takes great pains to keep us as much in the dark as her, though it's fairly obvious to genre connoisseurs that something is not quite right; there is nothing original either in the premise or in the scripting, with a couple of hoary reversals thrown in for good measure throughout, but Mr Morales' flawless execution effectively removes all objections to the steady deployment of genre tropes. Especially significant are his quiet control of rhythm and tempo - though the film seems overlong by at least 20 minutes, that is also because the director grounds the narrative arc around his characters rather than the need to build regular shocks. Unlikely as it may be, Los Ojos de Julia is in fact a hyper-romantic story about people who are desperately in need of love and comfort in an increasingly cruel world, as seen in Ms Rueda's note-perfect portrayal of Julia as a devastated woman whose world changed in a heartbeat, through no fault of hers, into a living nightmare - all out of love for her estranged sister and for her long-suffering husband. And the blustering, Grand-Guignol final 20 minutes, handled with brio and conviction, actually make clear just how much of an emotional, romantic story the film is.

Starring Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui, Francesc Orella, Joan Dalmau; and with Julia Gutiérrez Caba.
     Directed by Guillem Morales; produced by Joaquín Padró, Mar Targarona, Guillermo del Toro, Mercedes Gamero; written by mr. Morales, Oriol Paulo; music by Fernando Velázquez; director of photography (colour, processing by Image Film), Óscar Faura; art director, Balter Gallart; costume designer, María Reyes; film editor, Joan Manel Vilaseca.
     A Universal Pictures International/Guillermo del Toro presentation of a Rodar y Rodar production, in co-production with Antena 3 Films; in associate production with Televisió de Catalunya; with the participation of Mesfilms, Canal Plus, Universal Pictures International, Antena 3; with the collaboration of the Spanish Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, Catalan Institute for Cultural Industries, Catalan Films & TV; with financing from the Spanish Official Credit Institute, MEDIA Programme. (Spanish distributor, Universal Pictures. World sales, Planeta.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), September 12th 2011.


Popular Posts