A huge hit in its native Spain, actress-turned-writer-director Iciar Bollain's harrowing, psychologically astute drama about domestic abuse in Toledo opens with a bang: Pilar (the astonishing Laia Marull) wakes her sleeping son, Juan (Nicolas Fernandez Luna), packs a bag, and, without so much as changing out of her slippers, flees into the night. She's on the run from her abusive husband, Antonio (Luis Tosar), and takes refuge with her sister, Ana (Candela Pena), and Ana's Scottish fiancé, John (Dave Mooney). Ana tells Pilar that she's welcome to stay as long as she needs to, and even offers to help her get a job at Santo Tome, the 15th-century church famous for El Greco's painting Burial of the Count of Orgaz. When Ana returns to Pilar's apartment to collect the rest of her sister's belongings, Ana reads enough of the medical report she finds hidden in a dresser drawer to see exactly the awful extent of the physical abuse Pilar has endured: torn muscles, tendonitis and the loss of vision in one eye are among the horrors listed in the file. Hired to fill in as a ticket seller at Santo Tome, Pilar not only makes new friends but discovers a love of art she never knew she had. But after pumping Juan for information about where Pilar is now working, Antonio begins leaving gifts on her desk. Pressured by her widowed mother (Rosa Maria Sarda) to forgive Antonio, Pilar soon agrees to see him behind Ana's disapproving back. When Antonio shows up at her wedding, however, Ana knows it's only a matter of time before Pilar returns home to him. When she does, causing a serious rift with her sister, she finds that few men really change, particularly those who abuse their wives. The title comes from a lovers' game Pilar and Antonio play during rare moments of tenderness, in which Pilar offers her husband her facial features and body parts, a game that, as the abuse worsens, becomes a cruel parody of their marriage: Antonio has taken his wife's eyes so, like many abused women, she can no longer see the world or herself as they really are. Bollain spares us much of the actual physical violence — although the moment when Antonio nearly rapes Pilar shortly before she's expected at an important job interview in Madrid is extremely upsetting. But by following Antonio to his therapist's office and offering us the chance to hear what he's experiencing — namely a deep-rooted and stultifying fear — she paints a far more valuable picture of the whys and wherefores of domestic abuse than is usually depicted in movies.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: A huge hit in its native Spain, actress-turned-writer-director Iciar Bollain's harrowing, psychologically astute drama about domestic abuse in Toledo opens with a bang: Pilar (the astonishing Laia Marull) wakes her sleeping son, Juan (Nicolas Fernandez Lun… (more)