#LFF 2016: The Eyes of My Mother review

It's exceedingly rare for a filmmaker to present a deeply disturbed individual on the big screen, one who partakes in all sorts of grotesqueness, whose mind is one of deranged abandon and necrophile-longing, and somehow manages to portray not only what is repulsive, reprehensible and extraordinarily transgressive, but to pertain and touch upon a profound existential beauty. It was the Romantics who found as their creed the idea that often beauty and truth can only be arrived at through the experiencing of terror.

The Eyes of My Mother is therefore something of a Romantic horror masterpiece travelling the same crazy and psychologically frenzied road to enlightenment. Fronted by Kika Magalhaes, which, if there's any justice in the world, would prove to be a star-making breakout role, The Eyes of My Mother is told in three chapters - Mother, Father, Family - and details the life of a young woman left to her own devices on a farm. Like Michael Apted's Nell crossed with the notorious life and times of Ed Gein, Francisca (Magalhaes) is neither Keats's la belle sans merci nor an unsympathetic, one-dimensional monster.

Pained by the absence of her parents and an intense desire for companionship and to live her life as a role model to somebody, a specific obsession with the mother - a former eye surgeon, the title is a double-pun on her occupation but also the old saying about being the apple of your parent's eye - leads the lass to some very extreme places and situations. Nicolas Pesce's outstanding debut feature, presented in creamy black-and-white, is strong stuff indeed, but also achingly sad. Francisca adapting to tragic circumstances might be abhorrent on just about every level imaginable, but her story is universal - the pain of losing your parents is tremendous, raw and powerful.

Yes, The Eyes of My Mother is a work of ghoulish daring and outrageous imagery, but to create a character at once so brutal and cold, yet curiously sympathetic, is horror cinema at its absolute best, at its most thought-provoking. Slayer's Dead Skin Mask - coincidentally about Ed Gein's crimes - put it that “In the depths of a mind insane, fantasy and reality are the same!” Herein lies what the film portrays: the entire absence of social norms and standards, a person having constructed a life from scraps of learning, memories and darkest traumas. But everything has blurred. And when that happens, the result is beyond nightmarish.

The Eyes of My Mother is a must-see for fans of transgressive movies. It bristles with dark knowledge, illuminating repugnant truths like a lightning flash from brooding charcoal-coloured clouds. It is the quintessence of what Shelley described as the "tempestuous loveliness of terror". A film to chill the spine and haunt the mind, Nicolas Pesce has achieved cinematic glory.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 5-16 October. Book your tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn


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