By Anita Bedell
“Loneliness does strange things to the mind,” introduces us to writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes Of My Mother, a beautifully rendered art house horror film about the degradation of a lonely woman’s mind into psychopathic madness. Shot in crisp black and white, the movie likens to such stark nightmares as the 1968 zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead and the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and more recently (not in b&w), Lucky McKee’s The Woman and May.
Set on an expansive isolated farm, the story is told in three chapters: Mother, Father, and Family. In the opening chapter, Portuguese-American mother, Diane Agostini, a former surgeon, teaches her young daughter, Francisca, (Olivia Bond) about anatomy by dissecting a cow’s eyeball. Francisca seems unfazed by death, until her mother is violently murdered by a stranger (Will Brill), looking like a grinning frizzy-haired bible salesman, who talks his way into the home and pounds her to death in the bathtub while Francisca sits at the kitchen table and listens. When her father comes home and sees the ghastly scene, what else can he do but chain the killer in the barn? Little is said as life returns to a new normal. Francisca and her father quietly watch television together and Francisca feeds and cares for the prisoner, eventually cutting out his eyes and slashing his throat so he can’t scream. The years pass.
Despondent with the loss of her father in the second chapter, Francisca (now a beautiful young woman, Kika Magalhaes) keeps her father’s body for company, seated on the couch beside her watching television for far too long (thankfully this movie is not scratch and sniff) and bathes his rotting body in the bathtub. The prisoner remains blind and mute and chained up in the barn. After a coming-of-age sex scene, he finally attempts escape—beautifully shot by moonlight, reminding me of Jonathan Glazer’s unnerving adaptation of Michel Faber’s Under the Skin—and Francisca catches him and kills him slowly, stabbing him repeatedly, all the while kissing and hugging his neck, in what could be considered a tender moment except for the man’s squelching. Now truly alone, Francisca must foray into the world to make new friends, to create a new family.
The Eyes Of My Mother, with its minimalist moonlit aesthetic and the birdlike intensity of Kika Magalhaes, is an impressive stylish debut. Like a good thriller most of the violence takes place off-screen, asking the viewer to imagine the worst. To feel the emptiness, the madness, when you lose everyone you love. This film asks us to be thankful for the love of our family and friends. We may want to kill them at times, but Eyes Of My Mother is what happens when there’s no one left to talk to because everyone is dead, because you killed them. Happy Thanksgiving!
Part of VIFF’s ALT program, catch the final screening of The Eyes Of My Mother on October 13th at 9:30pm at International Village 10.