No, the other film

I should be able to tell you about Jeux d’enfants, having gone to see it at the GFT tonight. But I accidentally walked into the wrong cinema, and saw an Edinburgh Film Festival screening of the Spanish wife-beating story Take My Eyes instead.

I’d love to report that this innocent blunder was the beginning of a marvelous evening, but while I did enjoy the film – not the right verb, but it’ll suffice for the moment – I find myself decreasingly satisfied as the hours post-showing run on. It is, of course, an horrific subject, and one apparently rather topical in Spain at the moment; it seems there’s a culture of hidden/tolerated domestic violence mirroring that in Scotland. The film is nicely shot, elegantly scripted, and the performances range from the wholly competent to the genuinely world-class. It’s also far more watchable, and indeed witty, than the subject matter would lead one to expect. So what’s not to like?

Perhaps it’s the enormity of the subject. In attempting to address swathes of hidden culture, director Icíar Bollaín has taken her eye off some of the fine detail that’s more pertinent to the specific story she’s telling. Confusion over timescales, for example, becomes distracting, as we jump months between scenes with no indication to the audience.

The story centres around the abused wife, and her tragic journey from the moment she walks out, through a reconciliation that’s initially tentative, then passionate, but finally bleakly futile. But she’s a curiously passive character in the story, driving the narrative mostly through her choice of which doors she will enter at different junctures. Whilst this may be a realistic portrayal of a victim, for me it squares badly with the same character’s transformation, apparently overnight, into a confident and enthusiastic speaker on the figurative interpretation of the works of Titian and El Greco. That this sounds ridiculous when written here rings alarm bells for me, but evidently not for the writer.

With the wife dragged along by the film’s message – a stunningly capable performance mildly hamstrung by the dictated chain of events – the husband is left to carry the story. And while his choice and eventual failure is realised in clever and deliberately stark fashion, the eventual thesis, from a male perspective, is unmitigated in its bleakness. His efforts, we are told, were at best doomed to futility, but more likely dangerously self-delusional. This became more apparent through Bollain’s charming, witty, but ultimately somewhat alarming interview after the screening. Much is made, for example, of the husband’s perception of apology; the character’s turning point when he finally does apologise to the wife is not, however, a scene included in the film. This might have been a clever choice, but for the revelation that the director had not noticed.

Is it possible for a story to be over-researched? Perhaps not, but I can’t help feeling that Bollain’s noble attempt to cram as much of her subject into this film as possible has not served her story entirely well. Less would, I think, have been more.

If it’s worth 500 words, it’s worth seeing; on general UK release in the autumn.

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