The origins of Toledo in Spain are a mixture of mythology and historical fact. According to the local tradition it has been founded by the Trojans and later became the capital of the Visigoths. In 1577 a painter called Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541-1614) of Cretan origin who had learned about the use of colour and composition at the studio of Titian in Venice and later befriended Michelangelo in Italy came to Toledo to paint The Assumption of the Virgin, a high altarpiece of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. Known popularly as El Greco (the Greek), he had enjoyed fame as a flamboyant painter and portraitist with commissions earned from the court of King Felipe II of Spain (1527-1598). However, it would be only after he moved to Toledo where he lived until his death with his common-law wife Jeronima de las Cuevas that he would develop an overwhelming emotional power in rapturous paintings showcasing the great religious fervour of his adopted country. His paintings of traditional religious subjects and portraits of elongated, luminescent figures in tortured postures were rich in colour accentuated with darker, somber shades – rather hauntingly graceful to catch the imagination of generations of artists and art lovers, and a Spanish actress-turned-director called Icíar Bollaín (María Icíar Bollaín Pérez-Mínguez) who would highlight his painting “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” as a decisive cursor in her third directorial movie, Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes).
A winner of 7 Goya Awards in all categories and many other awards (San Sebastián International Film Festival, Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival, Cartagena Film Festival, etc), this poignant drama based on Bollaín’s short “Amores que matan“, stars Laia Marull, Luis Tosar, Nicolás Fernández Luna, Candela Peña, Rosa María Sardà, etc. Mainly set in the heart of Toledo and Madrid and written by Bollaín and Alicia Luna, it tells the story of domestic violence in an elementary family consisting of Antonio (Tosar), Pilar (Marull) and their seven-year old son Juan (Luna) and its implication on the people around them.
Trapped in a marriage riddled with abuse and violence, the woman of the house, Pilar, had more harried moments in her daily life than tranquil ones. As the movie opens, one winter night, Pilar decides to take time to step outside her sphere of hell and flees from her marital home in Toledo with Juan and few personal possessions and take refuge at her sister Ana’s (Peña) home. Clearly foxed by her sudden departure, her husband Antonio confronts her at Ana’s door step, professing eternal love: “that she’s his sunshine, that she had given him her eyes, that he will change his ways, he will surprise her….” Though mindful of her hope that he would change, Pilar was clearly scared of retaliation from Antonio whom she dearly loves, the only love she has ever known.
Though she was surrounded by her kin, Pilar was still in a dilemma as the past held her captive, forbidding restoration of her equilibrium. Despite all her best intentions, Ana refuses to understand Pilar and her mother Aurora (Sardà) condoned the situation, trying to silence the problem as she had always done, while Pilar’s friends were unaware of the problem since she maintained that her most prized possession was her privacy. In the midst of all this was the son who saw everything but says nothing. Laia Marull, a beautiful actress who creates a spell around her, is excellent as the ever suffering faithful wife who does not say what she thinks or feels but exhibits such blatant fear at Antonio’s fits of rage that it’s no wonder that the film is devoid of violent scenes except for one scene.
To support herself and her son, Pilar obtains a job as a substitute cashier in a museum at Santo Tomé. Meanwhile, in a clear attempt to amend his ways and to get over his quick temper, Antonio not only attends to therapy sessions for spousal abuse but also sends her presents to win her over. He even visits her in her sister’s house to the displeasure of Ana to whom a relationship gone bad was like a flower, torn petal by petal, impossible to reconstruct. Ana wanted to help her sister get a separation from Antonio, and had her own justification for her attitude against the relationship since she had seen the hospital records for Pilar’s injuries sustained from her husband. Eventually Pilar moves in back with Antonio and tries to save her marriage, re-igniting their yearning for each other. She had taken up a course in art to help her become a tour guide in an art museum. It was during this time Antonio transpires into one of his temperamental fits, the only one episode of physical violence in this movie, in which Pilar suffers the most dreadful humiliation in her life. The incident which reflects the dynamics of power and control by her husband awake in Pilar the realization that with her economical independence gained from her employment as a tour guide, she can take care of her life and was no longer dependent on his approval. Spanish actor Luis Tosar, with his dark features and deep-set eyes, portrays the role of Antonio with acute professionalism. Refraining from demonization of Antonio, Tosar at times focuses on Antonio’s insecurity and inferiority complex and also displays his human side with the maxim “a man’s best possession is a loving wife”.
During the course of the movie, the director takes the liberty of showing many prominent paintings of Toledo including Luis de Morales’ “El Divino: La Dolorosa”, the iconic painting of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar: the name given to Virgin Mary for her apparition during the beginning of Christianity in Spain) from which the protagonist’s name is derived; Titian’s “Danaë and the Shower of Gold” and El Greco’s “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” about a wealthy philanthropist Knight who had contributed generously to the welfare of the church on whose funeral day, according to the legend, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended from the heavens to provide him a holy burial. It is a tour guide’s narration about this painting and how El Greco’s art found a way to unite both heaven and earth that provides Pilar with a path to decipher the meaning to her misery.
Although “Te Doy Mis Ojas” generates tremendous empathy and tension as the couple attempt to rebuild their marriage, the movie refrains from exploring the personality of Pilar more intensely. However director Bollaín can be rightfully proud to bring out a film that offers great performances and depict all sides of the situation as it reveals in great detail why Pilar is not the heroine of her own story; why she still loves such a man; why she endures for such a lengthy time and wants to continue to stay with an abusive husband; and the way insecurities and loyalties of different characters unfold at various points in the story line. It also reveals the root of Antonio’s anger and insecurities, and why he inflicts such fury on his wife. With the little games they play in privacy and later shown prominently through a guileless sex scene, the film draws attention to the sexual bond between Pilar and Antonio (a name derived possibly from Adonis) as the raison d’être for her longing for Antonio despite the humiliation and emotional abuse she suffers from him. As Pilar becomes the heroine of her story and sets out to seek the rainbow of salvation for the second time, the fact still remains: One can never change the past, only the hold it has on you.
The movie is available on DVD in Spanish language with English subtitles. (© JS/Manningtree Archive)