Abre los Ojos
A feature length film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and released in 1997, Abre los Ojos challenges your perception skills whilst captivating you in the complex story line with new ideas and solutions of what direction it is going next. The film starred Penelope Cruz, Fele Martinez and Eduardo Noriega as the protagonists. Abre los Ojos is the original story line that was later remade in 2001 under the title Vanilla Sky, again featuring Penelope Cruz in the same role alongside Tom Cruise.
Abre los ojos starts with a young man wearing a prosthetic mask in a prison cell, telling his story to a psychiatrist. From here on, there follow a series of long flashbacks and scenes that detail how this man got into this situation. However things aren't as they seem at first sight.
The man, who we find out is called Cesar, is then portrayed as a handsome, rich party animal who likes to flirt with women. At his birthday party, he begins flirting with a girl named Sofia who came to the party as the date of his best friend, Pelayo. However after the party, his ex-lover Nuria gets extremely jealous and offers him a lift in her car. While in the car though, she goes crazy, takes a handful of pills, and then crashes the car, killing herself and leaving Cesar horribly disfigured.
The extremely vain Cesar then slips into a terrible depression that leaves him alone and drunk in an alleyway, as Sofia went back to be being with Pelayo. However by the next day, everything has been miraculously resolved. Cesar's face is no longer deformed and Sofia has fallen in love with him. But the good times don't last for Cesar, and from here on, the film gets very strange, descending through a series of weird events that eventually help to explain what happened to him. For example, Sofia keeps transforming into Cesar's dead ex-lover Nuria, driving him to the point of madness. Abre los Ojos will have you second guessing yourself and your eyes will be glued to the screen as you piece together the subtle clues left around throughout the movie. And remember, not everything is as it seems!
Reactions and Analysis
On analysis, the film actually has a lot of underlying themes aside from being a psychological thriller. There is a lot of playing with the ideas of appearances and reality in the film, which is helped along by the constant use of mirror symbolism. It is for this reason that Abre los Ojos has also been compared to the Matrix trilogy. Other elements to look out for are the focus on vanity, bodies and health, as well as the modern picture of Spanish youth and youth culture. This culture is particularly evident in the soundtrack which features a number of pop and rock songs by artists like The Walkabouts and Smoke City.
Amenábar has often been criticized for trying to emanate Hollywood style cinema too much; however this is the style that has brought him so much fame over the years. In this sense, there are a number of classic horror elements that come from American films, such as the references to Jekyll and Hyde with the juxtaposition of Cesar's deformed and fixed face. The film also contains many traces of the film Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock. Amenábar has been a fan of Hitchcock's films and even told Penelope Cruz to study Vertigo before the filming of Abre los Ojos.
Abre los Ojos was nominated for 10 Goya awards in 1998, but was beaten in every single category. However it did win a number of awards at various small film festivals around the globe, including an Honorable Mention at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998, the Best Ibero-American Film Award at the Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival in 1999, and the Tokyo Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 1998. The movie was warmly welcomed, frequently receiving high and perfect rating scores from ruthless critics both in and outside of Spain, and it fared much better than its remake Vanilla Sky. It has been said each aspect of the movie worked together, something which can be seen especially in the music composition that continuously complements what is taking place in each scene.