Spanish film delves into issues of marital abuse

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 20, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Marital abuse is the tough subject of “Take My Eyes,” a straightforward Spanish film that swept that country’s version of the Academy Awards. It’s directed by an actress, Iciar Bollain, who clearly tries to burrow into the subject and understand it from all sides.

We first meet Pilar (Laia Marull) as she furtively flees her home with her young son in tow. They go to stay with Pilar’s sister Ana (Candela Pena), who gradually awakens to the fact that Pilar has been beaten regularly by her husband.

He is Antonio (Luis Tosar), and as the film progresses he enrolls himself in a men’s counseling group. These sequences are treated in near-documentary fashion, and we learn a lot about Antonio’s attitude toward his wife from his participation in them – for instance, when asked what he likes about Pilar, he ponders the question and then sincerely says, “She makes hardly any noise.”

Meanwhile, Pilar learns how to become a museum tour guide, and her new acquaintance with art seems to strengthen her self-respect. But the pull of Antonio is powerful, especially as he declares himself serious about reforming his violent ways.

The film is more complex than the TV-movie story might suggest. Bollain probes the reasons Pilar might remain attracted to a man who is bad for her.

And Antonio is more than a cardboard louse. Bollain shows the frustration of his job and his secondary place in his own family, as well as the complicated process of trying to short-circuit his anger (if anything, the film gets a little too detailed in its therapy-speak).

Straightforward: Spanish film about marital abuse, set in the superbly photographed city of Toledo. Luis Tosar, as the intense husband, threatens to overwhelm Laia Marull’s wife, but both actors dig deep to produce complex characters. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, violence

Now showing: Varsity

There’s also Pilar’s mother, who stands as the mouthpiece for a traditional society that places the sanctity of marriage above such troublesome details as abuse.

This story unfolds in a conventional style, relying on its actors to dig deep. Laia Marull gives a deceptive performance as Pilar – first a doormat, then coming into her own.

It would be easy for her to be overpowered by Luis Tosar, a furious, heavy-browed actor (from “Mondays in the Sun”). Tosar’s intensity almost unbalances the movie, and he does a skillful job of making Antonio something other than a simple monster.

The other star of the film is the city of Toledo, home to the El Greco paintings that figure in the story. Bollain uses the city as a spectacular backdrop, and when the characters talk about leaving town and starting somewhere new, you’ll wonder why.

Laia Marull and Luis Tosar star in “Take My Eyes.”

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