Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) Review

Abre Los Ojos is a startling Spanish film that lingers in the memory days after watching it. This is despite of the fact that the film possesses a highly ambiguous ending, and a final act that seems grotesquely distorted from its other two acts. Titled Open Your Eyes for English speaking audiences, the film so impressed Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise that they virtually translated it word-for-word in English and remade it as Vanilla Sky. Because the director of Abre Los Ojos, Alejandro Amenábar, allowed the remake, he was given funding by Tom Cruise's production company for his first Hollywood project, the tremendously old-fashioned horror tale The Others, which has since made him the toast of Hollywood.


Vanilla Sky has sparked much interest amongst those keen to unlock the secrets of its plot, and therefore Abre Los Ojos has been revisited by many in an attempt to gain further insight. Many will be disappointed, as Abre Los Ojos is essentially the same film as Vanilla Sky minus the extra dosage of pop-culture references from Cameron Crowe, therefore leaving students of the two films none the wiser.

We've often imagined the possibility that the world around us is a fraud, and we've often existed in between a dreamlike and awakened state; never sure just how real the mental messages we decode actually are. Abre Los Ojos is a film that mixed these notions, and it encourages us to 'open our eyes' and grasp reality, even if it might be out of reach. The film stars Eduardo Noriega as Cèsar, a rich young playboy whose womanising lifestyle might have got the better of him. Cèsar never sees the same woman twice, although his latest fling Nuria (Najwa Nimri) is determined to not be given the brush off. When Cèsar's best friend Pelayo (Fele Martínez) arrives at his latest party gathering with an attractive woman named Sofia (Penelope Cruz), Cèsar takes an instant shine to her, and starts to make advances on Sofia despite Pelayo also being interested in her. The next morning, Cèsar bumps into Nuria, whom he had tried to ignore after she 'invited herself' to his party. However, Cèsar is promised a bout of casual no-questions-asked intercourse by Nuria, and so he agrees for both of them to go to her house. However, whilst Nuria is driving, she starts to become extremely volatile and bitter at Cèsar's treatment of her, so much so that she deliberately causes a serious accident. Cèsar awakens to find himself hideously deformed, and in a reality in which nothing is what it seems. Has he gone mad, or are their more sinister forces at play?


Abre Los Ojos has no desire to tell us a story, as it is much more concerned with generating certain emotions. Rather than tell the plight of Cèsar, the film is actually trying to destroy any notion the audience has of safety and convention. The film can be perceived in many ways. It could be a biting satire on the life-changing implications technology could pose in the future, or it could simply be classed as another it-was-only-a-dream film. Another view shared by many is that the film is about the mind of a delusional psychotic killer prone to wild imagination, or that it is a message that in the boundless capacity of time and space we are but insignificant mortals. Director Amenábar clearly wishes the audience to be as confused and unsure as his own film's protagonist, and this is why the film succeeds. Rather than devote the film to one viewpoint, Amenábar allows the audience to draw their own fears from the story and let the film act as if it is heightening these fears. Whereas Vanilla Sky often presented itself as optimistic and hopeful, Abre Los Ojos is clearly a nightmarish voyage into the realms of the unknown sub-consciousness. It doesn't claim to know the answers, but as a film it at least offers a helping hand in terms of answering them.

The performances are all very good indeed. Eduardo Noriega has the correct level of arrogance and volatility to play Cèsar well, and he is matched by Penelope Cruz, who clearly suggests that she has always been better in her own language. Chete Lera provides strong support as Antonio, a character who might possess the only key to reality, and his warm performance provides a shining light to the rest of cast. Unlike the explosion of primary colours in Vanilla Sky, Hans Burman's cinematography in Abre Los Ojos is stark and sparse, as if exploiting the strong notions of alienation and insignificance the film employs.


It is however, Alejandro Amenábar who is most impressive with regards to Abre Los Ojos. His direction carries with it an assured confidence that generates trust on the audience's part. It's often very hard to tell which direction Abre Los Ojos is headed, but you are never in doubt as to whether Amenábar is in full control or not. It is obvious that the majority of Western audiences will prefer Crowe's more polished Vanilla Sky, but Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos is a better film and a much more unsettling experience.



Picture
Abre Los Ojos is often a dark, moody and disturbing film so do not expect bright, luminous colour tones. However, the transfer of the film by Artisan in impressive, and exhibits fine, sharp clarity and a decent lack of any artefacts, although some grain can be detected. Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1.

Sound
Presented in 2.0 Spanish stereo with optional English subtitles, the sound mix is only left and right surround but does contain an acceptable amount of spatial channelling, particularly in the film's final sequence.




Menu: The menu is animated and features music from the film, but is slightly boring, and fails to harness any eerie element of the film to enhance its own design.

Packaging: A very uninspired packaging design by Artisan, with cover artwork that is clearly an effort to capitalise on the rising Hollywood stardom of Penelope Cruz. The artwork is bland and minimalist, and the amaray packaging contains a four page insert which contains chapter listings and very brief production notes.




Extras

Cast And Crew: A decent amount of information covering the biographies of the major players in the cast and crew, presented as text on screen with still images.

Production Notes: Some decent production notes that explain the director's intentions with the film and some good background information. Presented as text on screen.




Conclusion

A very ambitious and confident attempt at distorting a psychological thriller to a very grotesque level, Abre Los Ojos is an excellent effort, and together with Amenábar's other fantastic films Tesis and The Others, suggests that the director is quickly becoming one of the most capable in the field. Artisan's DVD exhbits fine picture and sound quality, and unfortunately is lacking in any significant extra feature. This is a shame, as a director's commentary on Abre Los Ojos would prove to be very compelling.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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