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Behind the Mask

[whitespace] Open Your Eyes
Night Moves: Penélope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega take in the night life in 'Open Your Eyes.'

'Open Your Eyes' dreams about reality

By Richard von Busack

HIS FACE was flattened by a car accident. The windshield stamped a huge fissure shaped like a sine wave on his cheek. You'd think that César (Eduardo Noriega) had suffered enough, but his torments are just beginning in the Spanish thriller Open Your Eyes. In a prison for the criminally insane, a paternal psychiatrist bullies César into remembering a murder he committed, but César's memories are clouded, patched together randomly.

What he does remember is this: There was a time when he was a handsome, cold-hearted rich kid in Madrid. He was being trailed by a pushy girl he'd slept with, Nuria (Najwa Nimri). At his birthday party, he ditched the pest in favor of Sofia (Penélope Cruz). The contrast between Nuria and Sofia couldn't be clearer: Nuria is a pesky whore, dressed in fire-engine red; Sofia, in baggy, practical sweaters, is a sweet, girlish actress who likes to moonlight as, shudder, a mime. César goes home with Sofia. It's a chaste night, though. When César leaves Sofia's apartment at dawn, swooning with the thrill of new love, Nuria is waiting for him in her red car. The bad girl offers him bluntly what the good girl refused to give him. César shrugs and gets into her car. Nuria gulps down a handful of pills, asks César if he believes in God and then drives her car straight into a cement retaining wall.

That's what happened to his face. The question is, What happened afterward? Director Alejandro Amenábar prolongs the mystery as long as humanly possible. As in similar recent stories, In Dreams, eXistenZ and The Matrix, the suspense comes from not knowing whether the character is dreaming or awake. But Open Your Eyes doesn't have the bravura fantasy that Neil Jordan gave to the drowned village scenes of In Dreams. Nor is Open Your Eyes playful like eXistenZ or full of technical effects like The Matrix. In unsuccessful movies about dream lives, the twists don't scare, they only startle. And the tricks here aren't much different than the nervous-making "pop-ups" of a crass slasher film.

Still, there's one especially good sequence in Open Your Eyes: Wearing a "facial prosthesis"--a blank-faced mask--César hits a disco to harass Sofia, just as he himself was harassed by Nuria. Rebuffed, César gets staggering drunk. His false face is pushed to the back of his head, making him look like Janus as he weaves around in the murk of the nightclub, pierced by lasers. Unfortunately, Amenábar has a sentimental touch. The film's best moments of suspense are overcome by a hackneyed ending and sappy moments, such as a scene showing Sofia's mime makeup melting in the rain as César stares worshipfully with his wet, twisted face.

Open Your Eyes (R; 110 min.), directed by Alejandro Amenábar, written by Mateo Gil and Amenábar, photographed by Hans Burmann and starring Eduardo Noriega and Najwa Nimri.

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From the May 27-June 2, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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