Directed by Iciar Bollain, starring Laia Marull, Luis Tosar, Candela Pena, Rosa Maria Sarda, Kiti Manvar, Sergi Calleja and Elisabet Gelabert.
'Te Doy Mis Ojos' is a rare thing: a film that is almost impossible to like, not because of any great failing on its part, but simply because of its subject matter. Where many films routinely sink because of dire scripts, poor acting and brainless plots, this is simply hamstrung from its conception. I mean, how do you enjoy a feature on domestic abuse? Perhaps something approaching admiration or appreciation is as good as it gets for stuff like this, but even then it's easier to switch off than to dive in.
Pilar (Marull) is trapped in a violent marriage to Antonio (Tosar). It's not a loveless union, because a sort of love does seem manifest, but it's a twisted and destructive love, infested by jealousy, fear, confusion and self-delusion. The film begins with Pilar fleeing her home with her son to the safe refuge of her sister's house, but as is always the case in such situations, abuse is not a one-off assailant.
Spanish director Iciar Bollain's third film is a minimalist, low-key affair, and is served well by principals Laia Marull and Luis Tosar. Marull is both frozen and radiant, the former in most of the film, the latter in sporadic windows of hope that the man she married can be separated from the monster he has become. Tosar wrings all the sympathy he can from his character – a man not so much at war with women as with himself – but ultimately he's more Hyde than Jekyll.
There is no graphic evidence of physical or sexual abuse in 'Te Doy Mis Ojos', but we're never in any doubt that it is taking place. Some will feel that, in order to accurately depict abuse, a director should gratuitously evince that maltreatment without flinching. It's not pretty so why protect the audience, they will argue.
But Bollain obviously disagrees, preferring to concentrate on the emotional abuse more than anything else, with the beatings only alluded to in little nuggets throughout the script. The success of this clinical take on what is clearly an emotive issue will obviously depend on your viewpoint, but this certainly lacks the power and sickening resonance of something like 'Once Were Warriors', the visceral 1994 New Zealand film which looked upon domestic abuse with a far more shocking and lucent lens.
As an exploration of the common reality of domestic abuse, 'Te Doy Mis Ojos' is creditable. But ultimately it's difficult for any director to tackle an issue which many people – both men and women – simply do not comprehend. The dynamics of relationships vary widely, so it's somewhat futile trying to impose a paradigm to fit all experiences. Either way, escapism this is not.