Director: Ernesto Contreras
Mexico, the present day. Marina, a woman in her thirties works a Lulita’s Fashions, a clothing company. Lulita, the owner awards a ten day beach holiday for two to whichever employee a bird chooses at random – it chooses Marina. Lulita advises her not to let any chance of happiness pass her by. Marina asks her sister, Lucia, to accompany her, which she agrees to. Shortly later, she asks Lucia to let her and her husband use the holiday to repair their deteriorating marriage. Marina refuses. The holiday is non-transferable.
In a café, Marina is approached by Victor, who claims he knew her at school. She doesn’t remember him but Victor asks her to keep in touch. Days later, Marina calls Victor and asks whether he would accompany her on the holiday. They share dates; a picnic, to the cinema and dancing. Victor agrees to collect Marina on the day of the holiday. When he arrives at her apartment, she isn’t there. Marina sends him a postcard, explaining that she’s a fool and she hopes he’ll meet her at the station when she returns. He tears up the postcard but still meets her. Victor proposes marriage and Marina accepts.
A debut feature by Ernesto Contreras, who’s cut his teeth with several documentaries over the past decade, ‘Blue Eyelids’ is a touching and unconventional look at two lonely souls searching for and perhaps finding love. The pace is slow and subtle and Contreras rejects the norms of the genre. Just consider for a second what would Hollywood do with this premise. Choose two attractive leads and try to make us believe that they’re misfits, unable to find a soul-mate. Then of course, they’d be perfect for each other, maybe deal with some obstacles that would need to be overcome, but by the film’s resolution, they’d show society and live happily ever after.
Such an approach just wouldn’t convince. Cecilia Suarez (Marina) and Enrique Arreola (Victor) are believable in their moulds and it’s certainly possibly to understand how they might be cut adrift and alone. Victor mentions how he’s managed to lose contact with his friends over the years and his constant memories of school and the classmates he knew is a poignant combination of nostalgia and regret. Marina is less inclined to think about her schooldays for whatever reason. She clearly doesn’t remember Victor despite one incredibly transparent lie that Victor easily picks up on. Marina has a relationship with her sister that we imagine isn’t so close and her sister’s insecurities, including one assertion that Marina might want to see her marriage fall apart, seem to drive a wedge between them. Besides the one scene where Lucia asks Marina to forsake the holiday, we only ever see our two protagonists alone or with each other. These are two people who don’t find human contact especially easy.
Contreras astutely gives the impression that Marina and Victor live parallel lives; he shows them simultaneously showering, working and masturbating, cutting between them both doing so. However, he doesn’t really give the impression that they’re a potential couple that could bring each other out of their shell. Indeed, when they go on dates together, little changes. We watch with an acute sense of embarrassment as they repeat conversations they’ve had; inevitably small-talk or school memories, sit awkwardly in silence and most ungracefully of all, make love. Even Victor’s marriage proposal, which occurs when his car breaks down after the engine floods, almost seems cruelly comic. Contreras is keen to point out that this isn’t a natural relationship. Marina and Victor have been brought together by circumstances and a degree of fate. Even when a date goes flat, Marina will turn the conversation around to the holiday. This is the sole thing that pulls them together. Without it, would they even have lasted this far? Even after Victor proposes, we’re not even that confident about the future for this couple, whether they’re capable of making each other happy. Both look entirely uncomfortable and uncertain in the company of the other. In many ways, they’re a more ordinary, much less glamourous Mexican equivalent of Delon and Vitti in Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse’, where love is unobtainable and impossible.
Although Contreras is a first time film maker, his apprenticeship with numerous shorts has given him the confidence to make ‘Blue Eyelids’ a visually interesting film. He begins with a simple right to left tracking shot of the company where Marina works, uses zooms until they become close ups upon both Marina and Victor when they meet on dates (which seems the stuff of cliché really but it just about works), some nice overhead shots whenever Victor arrives at Marina’s apartment (twice), but otherwise relies on an approach of static shooting methods. Given that his film is an almost kitchen-sink style romantic drama, there’s no reason for Contreras to be overly flamboyant with his direction. The recurring use of Ray Davies’ ‘Strange Effect’ can be a little grating after a while, but there’s no doubting it’s an effective choice of song, with its use presumably ironic. The metaphor of the caged bird that gives Marina her chance of happiness, by awarding her the holiday, seems a little obvious too, but that’s no problem.
A mature, melancholic drama about love and its complications, ‘Blue Eyelids’ is a thought-provoking diversion from formula, similar to James Gray’s ‘Two Lovers’ in its serious and empathetic tone and attitude towards its central protagonists. Because of this, and also the recurring inertia, the film doesn’t feel like its takes flight or really goes in any meaningful direction. Certainly the viewer requires a degree of patience and the capacity to withstand certain awkward behaviour to really engage with Marina and Victor but persevere and there’s enough to admire. ‘Blue Eyelids’ hints at the potential of the Contreras siblings who write and direct, but their first collaboration is mostly uneven but worth picking out nevertheless.