Cinema as a balm for the soul: the complicated return of Víctor Erice in ‘Cerrar los ojos’ (Cannes Film Festival 2023)

Emotion was in the air in the Debussy room during one of the most anticipated nights of the 76th Cannes Film Festival: the time had finally come to discover ‘Close the eyes‘, the new movie Víctor Erice, 31 years later from ‘The quince sun’ (1992). The previous conversation was marked by enthusiasm but also by caution due to the long retirement of the 82-year-old artist and the strange absence of his work in the Official Selection. In fact, Erice did not go to Cannes.

The beginning of his new work is the most baffling: in the style of a not to go Hollywood classic, Jose Coronado He arrives like a Humphrey Bogart at the French mansion of an eccentric gentleman who has called himself “Sad King” (Josep Maria Pou) and who lives alone with a faithful Chinese butler who wears sunglasses. Of course, they start smoking.

A strange conversation takes place very theatrical where that Sad King tells part of his story and orders the Spanish Bogart to find his daughter to feel “her look” for the last time. She sends him neither more nor less than to Shanghai (a nod to ‘The Shanghai Promise’, an unsuccessful adaptation by Erice). When one has already settled in the chair before this strange premise, a swerve arrives: this prologue is part of another film within fiction, an unfinished project after the mysterious disappearance of its protagonist.

Stories and feelings of a rusty artist

I honestly breathed a sigh of relief when ‘Close Your Eyes’ started up again, thinking that those such forced and literary dialogues, and those performances and with such artificial gestures they were a more or less logical part of an attempt to recreate ancient material, emphasizing its difference and relic status. But not. That is the tone in which almost all the characters in the film will speak, watered by a voice-over that provides clarifications and reflections. It gets heavy to listen to 169 minutes.

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Fortunately, Erice has at his command a great deal that, despite having to declaim the lines of the script as if they were on a live stage, breathe life into much of the film, which has beautiful ideas and moments that are highly inspired, but often feel like a rehearsal for a theatrical performance. Manolo Solo he takes over his character and supports this complicated and irregular narrative on his shoulders, even during the most ridiculous part of the film: the making of a television show that is totally implausible on the screen.

Close the eyes

Jose Coronado he has the other most demanding role in the film, the friend and actor who disappears and works as an excuse to develop the whole story. The material of him as the heartthrob Julio Arenas is as stiff as the phrases he recites but embroiders the most dramatic and human facet of his character, that anonymous and reserved gentleman with an enigmatic look; he has next to only the most inspired scenes of the film. Including that final section that is wonderful, without a doubt the best of the film.

‘Close your eyes’: life is cinema, and cinema is life

In fact, the story is beautiful, the search for a friend that entails reopening wounds, an investigation and rereading of the past, reflections on memory or identity (there is a fun game of alternative names), the experiences or relationships that shape us. But, above all, it is another love letter to the seventh art written by a melancholic Víctor Erice who seems to be handing over his cinematographic testament, where he brings together everything that has obsessed him as a film buff and creator.

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‘Close your eyes’ conveys the fascination for cinema, the claim of its magic and its power to connect with the human soul. Comes to remember that those ghostly images can bring us back to life, they can save us. And as a lover of the seventh art, I can only applaud. In fact, everyone present at the screening gave a big round of applause to the members of the film’s crew who came to the screening in Cannes. Erice was not there, but several of the actors and those responsible for a very imperfect film were, but one that will remain as a treasure of Spanish cinematography.

Víctor Erice and Ana Torrent on set

separate question is the editing of an excessive feature film; I had the feeling that it needs to be polished, that we have not seen the final version. Beyond what each one considers necessary to include in such a slow film of almost 3 hours, there are details such as, for example, including a telephone conversation with connection problems and then repeating it in another setting and also clarifying what was said to another character. Or keep the different goodbyes of the characters during a dinner, including how they get up from their seats and leave the stage. It gives the impression that they have shown material that could be refined, cutting shots to avoid redundancies or actions that do not contribute anything.

In summary, the long-awaited return of Víctor Erice in ‘Cerrar los ojos’, which apparently points to a final farewell, leaves enough reasons to be moved and enjoy once again the sensitivity of the artistbut I think it also requires a position of total surrender to a rusty narrative, an attitude of overlooking and apologizing for everything that doesn’t work. It is worth going to the end but the journey is complicated. Perhaps it is not a bad idea to see her with a soda and sweets at hand, with the same calm with which the characters act.