Close Your Eyes review – Victor Erice returns with enigmatic tale of disappeared actor

Estimated read time 3 min read

Eighty-two-year-old Spanish director Víctor Erice had previously released a total of three feature films: his classic The Spirit of the Beehive in 1973, The South in 1983 and The Quince Tree Sun in 1992. Now here is Close Your Eyes, co-written by Erice and Michel Gaztambide, whose title could be taken to indicate a farewell. We can only hope not. It is a mysterious, digressive, long and baggily constructed film possessed of a distinctive richness and humanity, all about the balance between memory and forgetting which we all negotiate as we come to the end of our lives. And it is also about cinema, which helps to promote memory and retrieve that which has vanished, even as it is itself in danger of being forgotten. Close Your Eyes could even be a wry comment on Erice’s own absence these 30 years.

We begin in the grounds of a secluded, handsome villa in France just after the second world war, occupied by a wealthy recluse who calls himself the “Sad King”. He is played by Josep Maria Pou, wearing a toque (like Hamm in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame) and attended by a fancifully imagined Chinese manservant. He receives a visitor, played by José Coronado, a Spanish leftist and anti-Francoist to whom the Sad King feels gratitude for the way he helped him during the war (the Sad King is Jewish). He offers his visitor a lucrative job to track down his half-Chinese daughter who has vanished from his life.

But now we break out of this situation to be told that it is a movie whose production had to be abandoned in the early 90s because the actor Julio Arenas, playing the Sad King’s visitor, vanished during the shoot and has never been found. The film’s director Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo) – who, perhaps like Erice, has not been too busy in the industry – is contacted about Arenas by a sensationalist TV show which investigates “cold case” mysteries. Garay does some of his own digging into the past; he talks to Arenas’s daughter Ana (Ana Torrent), the movie’s editor and archivist Max (an engaging performance from Mario Pardo), and a mutual friend and lover Lola (Soledad Villamil). The secret of Julio’s disappearance is (partly) revealed, and by showing unseen reels of the unfinished film, a kind of denouement is contrived. By topping and tailing his film with fragments of this other imaginary film, Erice achieves a kind of enigmatic structural coup: an emotional sense that things have in some sense been explained and the case closed, when really of course it hasn’t.

Close Your Eyes meanders and twists and turns, it is expansive, garrulous and yet also downbeat and pessimistic. And yes, perhaps Erice is having a bleak autofictional joke about “solving” the mystery of his own disappearance. Perhaps, like Terrence Malick, Erice is about to give us a late-career burst of activity, combined with Manoel de Oliveira’s longevity. There is something deeply civilised and gentle about this film.


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