You know you’re in for a unique film-going experience when you’re enthralled by the movie’s opening scene, only to realize ten minutes in that it’s a fully fabricated film within the movie you’re watching. And yet, you’re just as enthralled and moved by the faux film after the reveal as you are when you get to see its conclusion nearly three hours later. Plus, it’s shot gorgeously on film to boot. That is the magic of Close Your Eyes (Cerrar los Ojos), the first feature film in 30 years by Víctor Erice.
In Close Your Eyes, Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo) was a writer-turned-film director in the 80s and 90s whose sophomore attempt at something truly great and lasting was ruined by his best friend and lead actor, Julio Arenas (Jose Coronado)’s sudden and total disappearance. The true movie opens with Miguel selling his soul and the film rights to his film, “The Farewell Gaze,” to a below-board true crime-exposé-type TV program. The show interviews Miguel and others about “The Farewell Gaze” and Julio’s disappearance. Miguel reconnects with Julio’s daughter Ana (Ana Torrent), a shared former lover, Lola (Soledad Villamil), and spends aimless hours deep in thought over whether Julio could have run away, been killed, or killed himself. He’s fairly sure of himself, but he might not even be aware he is. He’s less than open to the universe of possibilities than others.
Like the plot of Close Your Eyes, the direction is unclear for the first nearly two hours. It isn’t obviously a mystery in structure. You can’t tell that Miguel is actually curious to uncover much more than basic information to help his interview and, thereby, his payday. Maybe he isn’t at first. But that’s a reflection of Miguel’s experience itself. The audience can’t be privy to the truth of Miguel’s exploration if he’s not even sure what he’s looking for himself. So, the audience is along for the ride with Miguel’s comings and goings until he figures it out for himself. Even if not every moment impacts him or the plot in the end.
No rule in storytelling says that every scene, character, conversation, or even the reveal of a subtle piece of information has to serve something else in the plot or central character development. Things can just be for their own sakes, simply fleshing out a character or the time they’re spending. But Close Your Eyes is a little overwrought with these moments. Nothing specifically should be called out for trimming. But the whole middle hour and a half of the movie is just meandering through different characters and settings with little, if any, connection to the overall plot or its resolution. It gets a bit dull after a while, especially compared to the higher emotional stakes and thrill of the final hour.
This isn’t to say these moments don’t illuminate plenty about Miguel, Julio, or their relationship. But they certainly don’t impact any of the ultimate mystery. It has great acting and dialogue, and there are even some intriguing characters and relationships during that period of the movie. It just requires being bought into Miguel as a person to follow him around so lethargically for so long—more than nearly anything in the movie inspires, even in the last portion.
The movie shines hardest when it explores relationships, memory, and how they’re connected. Everybody remembers Julio’s disappearance differently. Everyone remembers Julio the man differently. Of course, they do. That’s natural. The only thing forever immutable is what is committed to film: his final performance and everything the movie could have been and did become.
Miguel’s superstition around not wanting to show the end of his never-completed film may emblematize the fear of making “The Farewell Gaze”‘s final moments permanent. Even if the film waxes well on the difference between actors and their characters, it’s still nearly impossible to separate the two, especially once all that remains of them is their echo in film. But when we do get to watch those final moments, it manages to bring everything in the movie itself full circle while feeling completely triumphant and satisfying in its own right. It’s as though we watched the entirety of “The Farewell Gaze” itself play out for three hours, even though their plots and style couldn’t be more different.
Close Your Eyes is far from a blink-and-you-‘ll-miss-it affair, but it is a good reminder that life’s in-between moments are just as important as the big, thrilling ones. You can miss a lot of the middle of the movie and have missed nothing as far as the plot or the characters, but you’ll be missing the downtime it takes to realize how precious the memorable moments are and appreciate them while they’re happening.
Close Your Eyes
Close Your Eyes is far from a blink-and-you-‘ll-miss-it affair, but it is a good reminder that life’s in-between moments are just as important as the big, thrilling ones.