The Movie Waffler New to VOD - CLOSE YOUR EYES | The Movie Waffler


A former filmmaker is drawn into the decades old mystery of his lead actor's disappearance.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Victor Erice

Starring: Manolo Solo, José Coronado, Ana Torrent, Mario Pardo, Soledad Villamil

Close Your Eyes poster

One of the most influential films to ever emerge from Spain, Victor Erice's 1973 debut The Spirit of the Beehive is about a young girl who retreats into a world of cinema to escape the trauma of life in post civil war Spain. Erice's latest, Close Your Eyes, only his fourth film in his 50 year career, is about an old man who has retreated from cinema. Having not made a film since 1992's The Quince Tree Sun, it was fair to surmise Erice had himself retreated from filmmaking. Yet here he is in his eighties, delivering what feels like a perfect bookend to a career that began with a child discovering the power of cinema and now might end with an old man rediscovering its importance.

Like Erice himself, Close Your Eyes' aging protagonist, Miguel (Manolo Solo), hasn't worked in the medium since the early '90s. He decided to pack it in when the lead actor of his final film, Julio (José Coronado), disappeared without a trace, having only shot two scenes – the film's opening and climax. Julio wasn't simply Miguel's leading man, but a longtime friend with whom he served in the navy and even spent time in prison with due to their anti-Franco sentiments. Julio's disappearance has clearly had a profound impact on Miguel, who has spent the subsequent years living in a trailer on a beach like the hero of a 1970s detective show.

Close Your Eyes review

In 2012 Miguel is contacted by the producers of a tacky tabloid TV show in the vein of Unsolved Mysteries. They wish to run an episode on the mystery of Julio's disappearance. Initially reluctant to cooperate, Miguel's financial situation forces him to agree to take part. His own interest in solving the mystery is piqued. He looks through old artifacts he had long hidden away and gets in touch with his former editor Max (Mario Pardo), now an archivist in possession of the footage of Julio's final screen appearance.

This footage brackets the film and is shot in 16mm film, in stark contrast to the flat digital look of the 2012 sequences. This gives the footage a special, almost magical quality, and when it's projected on the screen of a derelict cinema in Close Your Eyes' moving finale, its livid grain makes us believe we're in that same auditorium.

Close Your Eyes review

As Max launches his own investigation into the whereabouts of Julio, he revisits the past and is reminded of all he left behind when he walked away from cinema. There's a melancholy notion pervading the narrative that the art form Miguel and Max devoted their lives to is becoming increasingly irrelevant, consigned to steel cans in dusty archives, tended to by old men until they pass and it's left to expire like the contents of a dead bachelor's fridge. When Max is called upon to operate a cinema projector that hasn't been used in decades, his face lights up with the thrill of an old man who is suddenly relevant once more, and I thought of all those stories of retired projectionists who were recently called upon to assist puzzled cinema owners in screening Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer on 70mm. We're told the same projector was once used to view the dailies of the many spaghetti westerns that were filmed in the region in the '60s and '70s, and I was reminded of the joy of seeing my (terrible) film school graduation film projected on the big screen of the Irish Film Institute, the same screen where I had seen some of my favourite movies. Not since Tim Burton's Ed Wood has a film captured what it feels like to be a filmmaker seeing your work projected, regardless of its quality.

Close Your Eyes isn't simply about the power of cinema to hold memories, but of art in general. There are three singalong sequences in which the songs are explicitly linked with nostalgic memories. Some of the memories are welcomed, like a heartwarming rendition of 'My Rifle, My Pony and Me' from Howard Hawks' classic western Rio Bravo. Others bring back memories that parties would prefer left alone. When Miguel visits an old unrequited flame (Soledad Villamil) and asks her to sing a song he once loved, she cuts the ditty short when she realises the significance of its sad lyrics. The way Villamil closes the lid of her piano is heartbreaking, suggesting she may never be able to open it again.

Close Your Eyes review

Lids are opened and closed throughout Close Your Eyes as Miguel unlocks the past. It reinforces the importance of physical artifacts, and forces us to contemplate how dull a movie Close Your Eyes would be if Miguel could simply sit in front of a laptop and conduct his investigation with a few mouse clicks. In Coronado's remarkable transformation from Julio's fifty-something self as seen in Miguel's footage to the rickety septuagenarian we later come across, we're reminded that no amount of digital aging effects can compete with an actor committed to exploring their mortality. The contrast between the two Julios is astonishing, but it's all done with physical performance and a splash of hair dye.

For anyone who loves cinema and fears for its future, Close Your Eyes is a highly emotional experience. It's a cousin of Top Gun: Maverick and Nope in how its rousing finale sees vintage technology dusted down to serve a vital purpose. In Miguel and Max we get two old guys on one last mission to save the world (or at least one man) with reels of celluloid and beams of light. If it is indeed Erice's final film, it's a fitting farewell gesture. There's something deeply moving in how he casts Ana Torrent, the young star of The Spirit of the Beehive, in a key role. As we watch those big brown eyes dazzled once again, 50 years later, by the flickering magic of a moving image, we're reassured that while it may now have a few wrinkles, cinema is as vital as ever.

Close Your Eyes is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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