José Luis Torres Leiva’s Death Will Come And Shall Have Your Eyes (Vendrá La Muerte Y Tendrá Tus Ojos), is not an easy watch. It’s poetic, small, intimate, and fairly opaque. Full disclosure: I’ve had to read some interviews with the director to fill in the gaps.
The film focuses on the last days in the life of María (Julieta Figueroa), diagnosed with a terminal disease. She decides to refuse further treatment and she and her wife, Ana (Amparo Noguera), a nurse, decamped from their home to a cabin in the woods to await her death.
Plot, context and backstory are all light. (To give an example of just how light, I’m not sure I knew the characters’ names until I read the interview.) The film had a minimal screenplay reflected in the lack of dialogue and movement. Instead the intensity and tenderness of the women’s feelings are shown in long, lingering takes full of silence. Both actors give fine, spare, performances.
The escape to the cabin brings other people’s stories, full of life and energy, set in the beautifully-shot woods around it. First, the tale of an elderly woman who discovers a young girl living in the woods; then the story of María’s married uncle and his young lover who share a passionate, exciting, outdoor gay sex scene, which came as s surprise in a story about the relationship between two women. The rather incongruous ending, where teenage girls dance on the lakeshore to cheesy pop, also takes place outside.
The sensuousness of nature is also there in the woods: water, trees, leaves, the joy of being outside in the rain and having a mudbath, and crawling or lying naked on the forest floor. It’s in the outdoor sequences that that the sound design really comes alive, with the crunch of car tyres on gravel, immersive birdsong and insect noises, and the soothing sounds of a windchime.
Physical close-ups are everywhere in this film; there are eyes, faces, hands, skin, the rise and fall of a breathing abdomen,and not just those of the two women, but also the men, Ana’s patient in the hospital, the old lady and the girl.
María’s eventual death is in reality an assisted suicide, possibly even murder, as Ana administers drugs she has stolen from the hospital. It’s a credit to the power of the silence in the film that we understand this even though it is never discussed – there has been no begging, no pleading, no suggestion. Even as María writhes in pain there is no dialogue.
Leiva has referred to a sense of hope at the end of the film but I’m not convinced. Perhaps the teenage girls and the driving-with-your-eyes-closed game played by the women are intended to suggest that life goes on, but for me they are not a sufficient counterpoint to the intensity of the rest of the film. It’s compassionate and visually beautiful, but remains depressing stuff.
By Karen Smith
Death Will Come And Shall Have Your Eyes (Vendrá La Muerte Y Tendrá Tus Ojos) plays the BFI London Film Festival.