Still affected by the death of her mother from when she was a young girl, Francisca now finds herself completely alone on her family’s farm after her father passes away. In an attempt to cope with the loneliness, Francisca tries to bring people into her life to try and create a new family. However, there’s something dark and terrifying within Francisca. Something that she tries to hide away in the barn.
In an interview, newcomer Nicolas Pesce talked about how he wants to make confrontational cinema; movies that challenge a viewer both on an emotional and psychological level. With his debut feature, “The Eyes of My Mother”, it seems that he’s on the right track. Although this film might have setup a challenge for itself in terms of finding its audience. If straightforward films like “The Babadook” and “The Witch” created division amongst viewers, I’m not sure what Pesce’s film is going to do to them.
As a young child, Francisca spends most of her time with her mother — a Portuguese surgeon who now works around her family's farm. The two spend their days tending to the farm while Francisca’s mother tries to teach her about life through vivisection. One day, a curly-haired stranger comes into the home and murders the mother. When Francisca’s father discovers the gruesome incident, he decides to keep the deranged young man chained up in the barn in order to systematically torture him. As an adult, Francisca finds her father had passed away during the night. The thought of being all alone becomes too much to bare for the young woman and now she is desperate to find someone to share her home with. Due to her past trauma and the overwhelming fear of loneliness, Francisca begins lashing out violently to those who she brings in and takes them to the barn where she keeps a terrifying secret.
When a movie is a slow burn, it’s meant to build up to an explosive climax. Keep the tension on the audience until they can’t stand it anymore and then finally allow them to have a release. Seemingly inspired by Eastern European cinema, Pesce is content in having the audience remain uncomfortable, never easing up on the tension nor releaving it. “The Eyes of My Mother” is a movie that basks in its own atmosphere of bleak isolation and forces the audience to wallow in the depressive tone.
The cold nature of the black-and-white cinematography that perfectly captures the isolation with the relentless nature of the film's presence has more of an intendend purpose than mood and aesthetics. Pesce doesn’t want you to just relate or empathize with Francisca (Kika Magalhaes). He wants you to be her as well — to be in a similar state of despair brought on by the oppressive nature of the character’s surrounding (or lack there of) and complete lack of human connection. Even in the brief moments that are spent with Francisca’s family, there’s still a lack of any emotional connectivity within the story. There’s only the company of loneliness and death for Francisca. Pesce, along with his cast and crew, are able to recreate that overwhelming feeling for the audience within the frames of the film.
If someone is describing a film as being challenging, it’s often being used in a derogative manner but “The Eyes of My Mother” is a movie that deliberately wants to create both an emotional and mental challenge to the viewer. On one level, it wants you to be on the same wavelength as Francisca which is why the film offers no relief in the form of a payoff. The film is slow, drawn-out and quiet. And while the film concentrates more on being reflective, it’s in these silent moments that you do begin to feel for this young woman who yearns for someone, anyone. However, you’re met with opposing feelings since the desperation has caused Francisca to be disconnected with reality and commits unspeakable acts. Can you be empathetic towards a character who is willing to torture and kill those she meets because she wants to have that feeling of being wanted and loved?
Perhaps calling “The Eyes of My Mother” challenging is incorrect and maybe a better term would be personable. Nicolas Pesce and his film succeed at creating a viewing experience that intends to make the audience uncomfortable. Whether it be through the methodical pacing and dreary atmosphere or with the emotional conflict that Francisca presents. Some of the press surrounding “The Eyes of My Mother” is attempting to sell the movie on a exploitive horror element — a young woman torturing and killing a select few who wander into her existence. It’s a relatively minor part of the movie though. The horror is derived more from the emotional emptiness of isolation and the affect that it has this character. Whether that's effective for a viewer or not is dependent on each individual viewer. Some will call this film boring, others will refer to it as intense. In that regard, I think Nicolas Pesce accomplished that goal of what he wanted to do with his films. Or, at the very least, he's on the right path.