Abre los ojos (1997)


(director/writer: Alejando Amenabar; screenwriter: Mateo Gil; cinematographer: Hans Burmann; editor: Maria Elena S. de Rozas; cast: Eduardo Noriega (Cesar), Penelope Cruz (Sofia), Fele Martinez (Pelayo), Najwa Nimri (Nuria), Gerard Barray (Serge Duvernois/Man on TV), Chete Lera (Antonio); Runtime: 119; Artisan Entertainment; 1997-Spain)
“I felt uninvolved, finding myself drifting into my own dreamworld instead of the filmmaker’s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Open Your Eyes” asks a lot of questions, such as: How do you know if you are awake or dreaming? How do you know if you are sane or mad? How do you know what is real or fantasy? How do you know if you killed someone or not? The Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (Tesis) has made a psychological thriller that entertains these questions, intermixing his story with ideas about such subjects as virtual reality and cryogenics. His main story is about a vain and selfish man living off his good looks and accrued wealth, who when he loses his looks has to rethink who he is.

This stylish work as filmed in all the sleekness befitting a modern Madrid inhabited by the affluent young. Its jarring tale is told in a non-linear way trying its best to confuse even the most avid moviegoer.

Cesar (Eduardo Noriega), a handsome ladies man, is a rich 25-year-old, having inherited his father’s restaurant chain when his parents died 15 years ago. He is proud of his luxurious apartment, his three expensive cars and a reputation for never spending two nights with the same woman. He has the smile of a professional charmer and the warmth of a snake.

The story begins with a birthday party in Cesar’s cool “pad” where his last night’s sexual conquest shows up uninvited, Nuria (Najwa Nimri). When she refuses to leave, only wanting to go to bed with him again, Cesar asks Sofia (Penelope Cruz), an actress, the date of his best friend, Pelayo (Fele Martinez), to aid him in avoiding her.

Cesar takes the very attractive Sofia back to her place hoping to sleep with her, instead they stay up all-night talking and finding out intimate things about each other but do not sleep together. They are attracted to each other and make plans to date again, as Cesar leaves her place in the morning.

Waiting outside in her shiny red sports car is Nuria, who dares him to go for a ride. When he goes for a ride she takes some pills, which he refuses, and asks him if he believes in God. She then crashes the car, resulting in her death and in his facial disfigurement; and, for the viewer, it is the end of the story being told without the filmmaker playing mind- games with the reality seen onscreen.

In the next scene Cesar awakens disfigured, hiding behind a mask, in a psychiatric prison cell, being held there on a murder charge. He is being interviewed by a psychiatrist, Antonio (Lera), who tells him he is only trying to help him understand what happened.

The dead Nuria will reappear as someone still alive and to add confusion onto confusion, she will become interchangeable with Sofia. Also appearing, is the suave Serge Duvernois (Gerard Barray), who is seen on television advertising cryogenics and the possibility of life after death. This can be accomplished by freezing methods and adds another element of mystery to the tale. There is one tremendous line, where Cesar comments to Antonio: “These quacks promise immortality, just like the priests do.”

The final unresolved question will be: Is Cesar’s life reality, a dream or a nightmare?

If you like playing guessing games and are taken with the slickness of this bold but not exactly fresh script (I’ve seen mind-games like this played-out in some recent films, such as “The Game“), then you will have a more favorable impression of the film than I did. It was not a particularly moving experience for me. I felt uninvolved, finding myself drifting into my own dreamworld instead of the filmmaker’s. As diverting and beautifully acted and richly photographed as the film was, I thought it was mostly about style and not ideas.