Review of "Close your eyes": Spanish master filmmaker Victor Erice's moving homage to the power of film

Review of “Close your eyes”: Spanish master filmmaker Victor Erice’s moving homage to the power of film

It has been 31 years since the great Spanish auteur Victor Erice made his last feature film and, as Cannes winner Thierry Frémaux pointed out during a brief introduction to the 82-year-old director’s long-awaited return to the screen, Close your eyes (Close your eyes), which breaks a record previously set by Terrence Malick.

As amusing as Frémaux’s anecdote was, one day he may have to explain why he chose to program such a graceful and powerful tribute to cinema in the “Première” side section of his festival rather than in the main competition, for Close your eyes it is a consummate work directed by a great artist.

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Close your eyes

The bottom line

A touching cinematic swan song.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Before Cannes)
Launch: Manolo Solo, José Coronado, Ana Torrent, Petra Martínez, María León, Mario Pardo, Helena Miquel, Antonio Dechent
Director: Victor Erice
Screenwriters: Victor Erice, Michel Gaztambide

2 hours 49 minutes

Slowly but deliberately paced, the film builds to a crescendo into a concluding act in which a film itself – an actual film shot and projected on celluloid – plays a pivotal role, resurrecting lives and forgotten memories as only cinema can. Erice has managed, astutely and at the same time acutely, to justify her long absence from the scene in a film about absences, using a means that many believe is dying to literally bring the dead back to life.

Stylistically, very staid and wordy Close your eyes may seem distant from Erice’s groundbreaking 1973 debut, The spirit of the hiveor its follow-ups, The South AND Dream of Light, each made a decade apart. Yet all four works share a similar belief in the powers of cinema to fascinate and transform, both in the Hiveis the story of a little girl traumatized by observation Frankensteinthe classic movie star haunting a man’s life The SouthOR Dream of Lightthe use of the filmic process to capture artistic creation in the making.

Here cinema is once again a means but also an end, and Erice is well aware of the fact that his beloved medium is no longer the mass cultural colossus it once was, apart from festivals like Cannes. The protagonist of Close your eyes he is, in fact, an aging director and novelist named Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo), who, like Erice, hasn’t made a film for twenty years and who now lives as a hermit in a fishing village on the Spanish coast.

How he got there is something the nearly three-hour narrative will eventually, and quite movingly, explain, but Miguel’s mystery isn’t what drives the plot: it’s that of his best friend, Julio Arenas (José Coronado). , an actor who was playing in Miguel’s last film when he suddenly disappeared after a few days of filming, never to return.

The feature film they were making was a very Erician looking drama called The farewell look, which opens this film and could have been its alternate title. In the only scene that we glimpse in the foreground, an elderly and wealthy Spanish Jewish refugee, who lives on an estate in France nicknamed “Triste-le-roi” (The Sad King), hires another man – played by Julio – to find his long lost daughter, who apparently disappeared in Shanghai during WWII.

Just as we begin to get into that story, Erice cuts off and fast forwards to 2012, where we pick up Miguel, the film’s director, twenty years later. Arriving in Madrid to attend a Unsolved mysteriesTrue Crime Show-style about Julio’s disappearance, he slowly gets sucked into the mystery, digging through old archives in a warehouse, visiting his trusted editor and fellow film buff, Max (Mario Pardo), whose stuffy apartment is filled with 35mm cans, and crossing paths with a former flame (Helena Miquel) that he and Julio were both involved with. The time he spends exploring his past relationships prompts Miguel to not only wonder why the famous actor is missing, but also why his own career as a director has gone astray.

Erice has always used films within films as a narrative tool, but here that device becomes the real tool of his film scope. The more Miguel delves into his abandoned project 20 years earlier, the more he learns about Julio and himself, two friends who met in the Spanish navy and became prominent artists after Franco’s reign. Solo (Pan’s labyrinth) irresistibly plays Miguel as a man beyond his prime, full of nostalgia and regret. “We are nobody”, he says at one point, while his friend Max explains that the best way to grow old is to do it “without fear or hope”.

Yet for all his talk of abandoning the ghost, Close your eyes it eventually turns into a story about how things that were long-abandoned or seemingly dead — be it Julio, Miguel’s film, or cinema itself — might not be after all. It’s best to see Erice’s film for yourself to know what happens at the end, and know that this requires patient viewing: the story creeps along at a slow pace, even though everything in it has a purpose and its power gradually builds over the long time course.

In the film’s haunting and poignant final reels, the pessimism of its early sections gives way to a series of small miracles, both on and off screen. In those moments, Erice tips his hat to the medium he loves, including a quip about Carl Theodor Dreyer’s legacy and a nice sequence where Miguel covers Ricky Nelson’s “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” from Howard Hawks Rio Bravo. The final scene a Close your eyes, set, of course, in an old cinema, takes us back to the opening. All the pieces fall into place and one question remains: if cinema is dead, why is this film so alive?