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LEFFEST ’23 | Close your eyes, criticism



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“Close your Eyes” by Víctor Erice was the big winner of this year’s LEFFEST, having won the first prize in the Official Competition. According to the jury, “with a natural rhythm and refined, organic control, Cerrar los Ojos ponders the nature of existence and the terror – perhaps gift – of oblivion, the ability of art to speak for us and for us.”

In 1973, Victor Erice premiered his first feature film after a decade of exploring the possibilities of cinema in short films. “The Spirit of the Hive”, starring little Ana Torrent, became an international sensation, delighting cinephiles with its visions of childish subjectivity in shades of amber. Nowadays, we can find the title on many lists of the best films ever made. Ten years later, Erice returned with another masterpiece, “O Sul”, and, in 1992, came his “Sonho da Luz, o Sol do Marmeleiro”. Since then, however, the short and simple documentary have plagued her filmography.

For many, it seemed that Erice would never return to the big screen with a new feature film, a master for the ages with only three films to his name – all majestic. But the 30-year silence was broken with the announcement of a new project, a continuation of his interests expressed in past work, namely the artist’s perspective, memory, the crystallization of the passing moment through the advent of art and celluloid. From there came “Close Your Eyes,” a work clearly influenced by the filmmaker’s advanced age, one of those films by an aging master that, however, feels as full of ideas as the work of a newcomer.

leffest close your eyes criticize
© Nitrate

From conception to debut, however, there were many surprises. Among them, there was a whole controversy over Cannes, where the director planned his big return with Thierry Frémaux. But the Festival director misled Erice. Assuming that his work would premiere in competition, the Spanish artist had the unfortunate surprise of seeing “Close Eyes” relegated to a less prestigious position when Fremaux announced the program. Many accusations were made and rumors accumulated, curses in all directions and enough controversy to bury the tape in bad publicity.

However, along with controversy came critical reactions, a torrent of love for a returned cinema master. With the arrival of the film in Portugal by LEFFEST, we can confirm this passion, applauding this “Close Eyes” as one of the best achievements of the cinematographic year. Furthermore, it is capable of being one of the best poems ever conceived about cinema as a manifestation of human ingenuity and magic that dialogues with people too, a receptacle of memory and imagination that serves to take us to realities beyond physical or even mental reach. . Obviously, it all starts with a movie that never was and never will be.

This is the first scene of some neo noir old-fashioned, flourished with warmed-over orientalisms and an exuberant rendering in the center. A man named Levy lives in a French mansion in the post-war period, a refugee from the Franco regime who talks about a daughter lost in Shanghai. The grain and fog give the screen an air of mirage, velvety textures with an antique patina and the artificial feel of the cinema within a cinema. It is Matryoshka film is a 16mm fragment, a remnant of an unfinished work by director Miguel Garay. From celluloid to digital, we met the author in 2012, more than twenty years after filming was interrupted by the disappearance of the main actor.

It was not Levy who disappeared into the fog, but the detective searching for his daughter, as if fiction and reality had merged and inverted. He who seeks has become sought, never found. This is the state of the situation in the main narrative, when Garay is a guest on a television program about unsolved mysteries. There is talk of the disappearance of its protagonist, Julio Arenas, and, suddenly, it is as if the entire past fell upon the present. In conversation with Ana, Arenas’ daughter, the desire to move forward is strong, but yesterday clings to today and refuses to let go, revolving in the filmmaker’s imagination.

leffest close your eyes criticize
© Nitrate

Through three hours, Erice uses this artistic avatar to ruminate on the relationship between cinema and human beings, the memory we keep within ourselves and the way it manifests itself in everyday life – Garay is a reclusive man in apparent escape from life as it was , drunk with regrets and sorrows, lost loves and ghost friends. But then, a twist takes place and, from archeology on celluloid, the clue emerges and the answer to the enigma asserts itself on the horizon. Will the actor be discovered? But the question of memory continues, overcome by a profound amnesia and transformed into a true fusion of melodrama and philosophy.

Faced with a forgotten friend, can Garay and Arenas remember the truth? And what is it, this truth? Is it the fading identity of a man renamed Gardel or his departed persona? Is it the daughter’s ambivalence or an artist’s visceral need to use her art as a panacea? One thing is certain – it takes a miracle to resolve the mess in the last act of this “Close Eyes.” Of course, as the characters say, cinema is not a place for miracle-working magic. At least, that’s been the case since Dreyer he died. With that said, at the end of this tape, we may have to review the speech.

In Erice’s work, cinema still manages to perform miracles. In fact, the malleability of time is true sorcery in the hands of this gentleman, the hours passing in a fluid gesture. We feel the current of a river of memory with a depth of strong, even moving emotion. The weaknesses of the psyche collide with our ability to freeze images outside of time, beyond mortality, precipitating reflections on what separates the flesh from the spirit. Some speak of it as a love letter to the seventh art, but “Close the eyes” is more complicated than that, risking terror alongside astonishment, an elegiac poem from the big screen.

“Close Eyes” arrives in Portuguese cinemas on December 7th, distributed by Nitrato Filmes.

Close your eyes, criticism

leffest close your eyes criticize

Movie title: Close your eyes

Date published: November 22, 2023

Director(s): Victor Erice

Actor(s): Manolo Solo, Jose Coronado, Ana Torrent, Petra Martínez, María León, Mario Pardo, Helena Miquel, Antonio Dechet, Josep Maria Pou, Soledad Villamil, Juan Margallo

Genre: Drama, 2023, 169 min.


If this is the end of Víctor Erice, it would be one of the greatest farewells in the History of Cinema. “Close Your Eyes” is the kind of film that could only emerge from the mind of an artist with the weight of years on their shoulders, reflecting on what has been and will never be. For this reason, it tells the story of a director in search of a spirit from the past, all the human reality of this mission and all the symbolism that is inherent to it. It all culminates in a moment worthy of applause, as simple as it is powerful.

THE BEST: A brilliant argument, a final act that moves and makes you think, a breathtaking ending.

WORSE: There is a certain ugliness to the digital image, especially when it contrasts directly with the 16mm files. However, we would say that this aspect is more of a quality than a defect, a very deliberate aesthetic game by Erice.


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