Short Review: Los Ojos de Alicia

Los Ojos de Alicia (2005). Written and directed by Hugo Sanz. In Spanish (no English subtitles).

I saw the short film Los Ojos de Alicia as part of the Cincinnati World Cinema 8th annual “Oscar Shorts,” which screens this year’s nominated short films, along with ‘bonus’ films (of which this is one; I’m not privy to the selection process of the bonus films).

Of the eight films (in Part B of the program), I’m sad to say that not one passes the Bechdel test. Los Ojos de Alicia (which you can–and should–watch in its entirety above, although it is in Spanish without subtitles) comes closest, as it stars a woman and a video recording of a woman talking to her–although it turns out to be the same woman, talking to herself. (Note: if anyone can provide an English transcript of the film, please let me know.)

We open on a woman, tied up and blindfolded, just waking from a memory-erasing procedure. A recording turns on and a woman leads the blindfolded woman to a glass of apple juice to quench her thirst, then tells her the juice is poison. She tells the still-hooded woman exactly what memory she’s had erased: the woman returned home to find her husband seriously wounded and bleeding to death. She stopped to care for him before checking on her daughter, who she found also seriously wounded and who soon died. Not only did the woman choose her husband over her child, but she then learned that her husband stabbed the child, before trying to kill himself. The woman doesn’t know how to live with the implications of the tragedy, which led her to this room. The woman in the recording tells her there’s an antidote to the poison juice, if she can just cut herself free and swallow a pill. Just before the woman swallows the pill, we learn that it’s the pill–not the juice–that contains deadly poison. The woman in the video challenges her will to live in the face of the tragedy she experienced.

I think the film was included because it is provocative and good for engaging conversation, though the format of the festival (one film right after the next) did not encourage discussion. However, it bothers me on multiple levels. We have a male writer and director pontificating on a woman’s guilt, remorse, and what can only be described as self-hatred. This is a torture film, even if it is self-torture.

It’s interesting to consider how we deal with tragedy, though the thesis here seems to be that the only way past it (or through it) is to create an even more horrific tragedy. I can see how a woman would want to punish herself for failing to save her child, even when it’s not in any way her fault. What I like about the film is that it literalizes the way we torture ourselves when we feel we’re to blame for something terrible. The act of making literal torture in a raw and painful way makes us think about the banal torture people inflict on themselves. We all know someone who has been through unspeakable tragedy, and many times what the person does to herself (or himself) amounts to destruction on a tragic level.

What I don’t like about the film is its manipulation. It feels very much like cheating to create a universe in which we have alternate reality (memory erasure) and still are supposed to feel sympathy for a woman who would choose to do this to herself. We don’t know if the memory-erasure was a success; even with the juice detail (the woman claimed to enjoy the apple juice, even though we’re told she hated apples as a child) we just don’t know what kind of memory she has of what happened. She saves herself, but not without first forcing the “new” her to have a (false?) memory of what she lived through. Ultimately, the film is manipulative and sadistic; a thought-experiment on suicide, but not a very productive one.

Here is the CWC program of Oscar Shorts, Part B:

  • Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
  • This Way Up
  • Los Ojos de Alicia
  • Presto
  • Spielzeugland (Toyland) – Live Action Short Oscar winner
  • Lavatory – Lovestory
  • Sintonia

One Comment

  • kate
    Posted April 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your observation about the psychological torture of a woman’s guilt being explored literally in this film. When I think about it this way, I am more intrigued by the metaphor. Perhaps this cell, the monitor, the dark shroud around her body, represents her mind/inside thoughts. This self-inflicted torture of guilt and rage and sadness is like a prison. From this perspective, I can tolerate the sadistic nature of the film as the tangible hurt we, especially women, put ourselves through in times of overwhelming tragedy.

    I tend to think symbolically in this type of short, charged film. The pill, I agree, is a symbol of suicidal thoughts. The juice reference I cannot decipher. The memory-erasure seems to be an added bit we don’t need. Unless, as she removes her cloak and she sees her own face and hears the story (from herself), she is symbolically accepting the truth, instead of shrouding it. So, memory erasure could be a reference to denial?
    Whatever the director’s intentions, I do think there is some merit to the concept in this film, but I think it is too tight of a film to make mistakes; and some of his choices were heavy-handed or convoluted.
    Thanks for the well-written analysis, Amber. I enjoy your observations.