Directed by Alejandro Amenabar and written by Amenabar and Mateo Gil, Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) is the story of a young playboy whose life changes following a car crash that leaves his face disfigured. After falling for his best friend’s girlfriend, he is questioned by a psychiatrist as he starts to have trouble distinguishing real life and the dreams that he’s been having. The film serves as Amenabar’s international breakthrough as it would mark him as a new voice in Spanish cinema. Starring Eduardo Noriega, Penelope Cruz, Najwa Nimri, Fele Martinez, and Chete Lera. Abre los Ojos is an enchanting yet surreal film from Alejandro Amenabar.
After a near-fatal car accident that left his face disfigured and being questioned for murder, a young rich playboy named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) is examined by a psychiatrist named Antonio (Chete Lera). Cesar recounts his life as a young playboy who often sleeps with different women as he just scored in his latest conquest in a woman named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). With a birthday celebration coming as a party is held for Cesar, his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez) arrives with his new girlfriend Sofia (Penelope Cruz) as Cesar is amazed by her. Despite dealing with Nuria’s presence, Cesar finds himself attracted to Sofia as the two have a conversation about things as she takes him to her apartment. After a fun night where Cesar didn’t actually sleep with a woman, Nuria waits for Cesar as she drives him home where Nuria’s behavior leads to a horrifying incident.
With Cesar disfigured, his life is in shambles as he talks to Antonio about the despair he went through as all the surgeries he had didn’t work. Still, Sofia and Pelayo try to help him as he is convinced that his life ends. Yet, something happens as a revolutionary surgery has arrived fixing Cesar’s face as he manages to re-connect with Sofia as the two have a romance. Then, reality starts to blur as he sees Nuria claiming to be Sofia as Cesar has no idea what is going on. After meeting a man named Duvernois (Gerard Barray) who claims that Cesar is just dreaming, Cesar refuses to believe him as things become more complicated as Antonio asks about the dream Cesar keeps having. Cesar realizes that it all has to do with all of the things that are happening him as he confronts what is blurring his idea of reality.
The film is about a young man’s life that changes following an accident as his perception of reality starts to blur as he’s dealing with dreams in his head as he’s talking to a psychiatrist. During this journey, he starts to fall for a beautiful young woman who is his best friend’s new girlfriend. While she’s not like any of the women that this young man has been with, she comes in at a time where his life is going to change but in the wrong way due to a jealous lover. Due to his despair, he sleeps into a drunken state and wakes up where things change as it adds to his own confusion about what is real and what is a dream.
Alejandro Amenabar and co-writer Mateo Gil create a film where it’s all about the idea of what dreams can do but also how they can play with reality. At the same time, it’s a character study set into a world of surrealism as Amenabar and Gil delve into what this man is going through. During the course of the film, there is a story involving cryogenic freezing from a man who talks about it as it would later become something bigger in the third act. Meanwhile, Cesar goes through this journey where he has to deal with being disfigured and then have his face back but things don’t seem perfect as it seems. The script is a mesh of various genres with a center on this man’s ordeal as he talks to a psychiatrist that is trying to piece everything together.
Amenabar’s direction is truly engaging in the way he presents the film as he goes for style a lot of the composition he brings in as it’s shot on location in Madrid and in a full-frame format. Still, he allows the film to have a wide depth of field for several shots of Madrid as some of the early dream-like sequences features a city that is truly empty. Amenabar always keeps the camera moving to maintain that surreal-like state along with a few visual effects shots to play up Cesar’s perception of reality.
At the same time, there’s some wonderful intimate moments in scenes between Cesar and Sofia where Amenabar keeps the presentation simple. Yet, the way he approaches the more intense, dramatic moments as well as the big moments such as the ending shows ambition no matter what he has to use for a film like this. Overall, this is truly a stunning yet magnificent film from Amenabar.
Cinematographer Hans Burman does an excellent job with the film‘s photography from the colorful yet entrancing look of the nightclub scene to the broad yet beautiful daytime scenes in the park where Cesar recalls a dream to Sofia that she‘s in. Editor Maria Elena Sainz de Rozas does a great job with the editing by creating a tight yet methodical approach to the pacing while using straight cuts to black and jump-cuts to play up some of the film’s suspenseful moments.
Art director Wolfgang Burmann, along with set decorators Carola Angulo and Ramon Moya, does a nice job with the set pieces created such as the room where Cesar and Antonio as well as the differing apartments that Cesar and Sofia live in. Costume designer Conha Solera does a very good job with the costumes to exemplify the personalities of the characters from the posh/casual clothes of Cesar to the stylish clothes that Sofia wears. Makeup designer Paca Almenara does an amazing job with the makeup for Cesar‘s disfigured face which plays up the trouble emotions of Cesar. Sound designers Daniel Goldstein and Ricardo Steinberg do a fantastic job with the sound to capture the sparse texture of empty Madrid and other intimate moments to more layered work in crowd-driven scenes.
The film’s score by director Alejandro Amenabar and Mariano Marin is superb for its orchestral score filled with heavy arrangements for the suspenseful pieces as well as more low-key somber cuts for the light-dramatic moments. The film’s soundtrack also includes an array of alt-rock cuts and some electronic pieces by acts like Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps for the club scenes that is prevalent in the film as the overall music work is great.
The film’s terrific cast includes an appearance from Jorge de Juan as an executive late in the film as well as Gerard Barray as the mysterious man that appears on the TV that Cesar later meets at a club. Najwa Nimri is excellent as the sexy yet mysterious Nuria who confronts Cesar about his womanizing while playing mind games with him. Fele Martinez is very good as Cesar’s friend Pelayo who tries to deal with Cesar’s interest towards Sofia. Chete Lera is superb as Antonio, Cesar’s psychiatrist who tries to figure out his mood and the dreams that he’s been having as it’s a very brazen yet charismatic performance.
Eduardo Noriega is great as Cesar, the young playboy whose life is shattered by an accident as he seems to try and figure out what to do only to have trouble in distinguishing reality and fiction. It’s a very complex yet exhilarating performance from Noriega who starts off as charming and a bit un-likeable only to wear makeup for his disfigurement and to convey the despair that he’s going through in this amazing performance. Finally, there’s Penelope Cruz in a radiant performance as Sofia as Cruz brings a wonderful sense of charm and wit to her character. Notably in a scene where she does mime work that is just amazing to watch while she has some great chemistry with Noriega for the way they talk and react to each other in a very naturalistic, relaxed approach as it’s one Cruz’s finest performances.
Abre los Ojos is a spectacular yet mind-bending film from Alejandro Amenabar that features brilliant performances from Eduardo Noriega and Penelope Cruz. For anyone that is interested in the works of Amenabar should definitely check this out as it’s also one of the most daring and ambitious sci-fi dramas of the 1990s. The film is also worth seeking out for those that had seen Cameron Crowe’s 2001 remake Vanilla Sky to see what Crowe expanded on as it also featured Cruz in the same role. In the end, Abre los Ojos is a thrilling yet hypnotic film from Alejandro Amenabar.
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