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IFFR 2017 Review: Pedro Aguilera’s ‘Demonios tus ojos’

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Watching and being watched, filmmaking as an open window, invitation or invasion. This is Pedro’s Aguilera’s IFFR proposal for the Hivos Tiger Award. With Demonios tus ojos, the Spanish director presents the story of Oliver (Julio Perillán), a greying yet charming filmmaker living in LA, who decides to pay his half-sister a visit in Spain after discovering that she’s on a sex website. Although Oliver’s normal reaction as an older brother would have been one of disapproval and confrontation, he explores other means to uncover this young lady’s behaviour. Completely unscrupulous, Oliver secretly places a webcam in his sister’s room, shooting her 24/7. Temptation emerges and the subject of observation becomes an object du désir, leading to a sick yet obvious moment.

Aurora is no Lolita, although her naive, youthful spirit is brought to life by Ivana Baquero (Pan’s Labyrinth), a blissful student who begins to wonder about the world. The character, not yet a woman, is quite over-sexualized, wandering around in tight shorts and t-shirts. However, Aurora is never slutty and her appeal as a character seems to come from her ingenuous nature and lack of sensuality. She is the typical younger sister fascinated by her older, handsome and independent brother, the one you play mom and dad with when you’re little. The admiration that Aurora feels for him is known in her young group, with Oliver being the cool brother who faced their parents. Aurora feels that her brother is free, living the way he wants, a restrained urge that she hasn’t acted upon. The director chooses two clever ways to portray the protagonist, either through an oval and intimate vignetted frame, or through interaction with other characters, choosing a 4:3 aspect ratio in accordance to Oliver’s homemade, indie live view. In a way, by making the two formats coincide, Demonios tus ojos could be read as if the entire structure is one of the character’s cinematic experiments, like one that he premonitory mentions in an interview at the beginning of the film (about the loss of innocence).

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Demonios tus ojos could be read as a purity-destroying story, with Oliver acting as a male version of Kathryn from Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions — another film about a vicious relationship between step-sisters. Although Aurora isn’t bad or dirty like the protagonists from the Choderlos de Laclos adaptation, Oliver’s tendency to suck out goodness and innocence is quite similar. Lacking the artistic and political feelings of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, nor the radicalism of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, the incest drama brings to light some unexpected questions about voyeurism, as there’s an interesting parallel between the desire to watch and to be seen. At one point, it’s revealed that Aurora’s home-shot porn was filmed by her ex-boyfriend (with her permission), and when she discovers her brother’s hidden camera, she doesn’t stop the live stream and puts on a show with her new boyfriend. The knowledge of being watched transforms Aurora, as she becomes less self-conscious and embraces her potential to seduce. To a point, the pleasure she enjoys presents the question as to whether or not she’s actually a victim of her brother’s immoral actions. For such a dark subject, Aguilera’s luminous cinematography feels bold, since forbidden scenes traditionally transpire at night.

The movie’s title coincides with the name of an 80s underground band, literally translating to “Your demon eyes,” which captures the essence of the lustful glances that lead to perdition. However, the English version of the title — Sister of Mine — is borrowed from The Psychedelic Furs’ techno rock piece ‘Sister Europe,” a recurring song that plays both as Aurora’s phone ringtone and the obsessive soundtrack of the characters’ relations. This leitmotif blends beautifully with The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard,” inviting a more social interpretation of this film by transmitting its youthful, rebellious vibe.

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All in all, Demonios tus ojos is a movie about the excitement of doing something prohibited. The pleasure is seen as something unreachable, as people often wish for things that don’t feel attainable. The beautiful, young protagonist is naturally attracted to her brother, even if this wish seems impossible to come true at the beginning. She doesn’t act sisterly in front of this man, who is more estranged to her than related. Tired of her too-available boyfriend, Aurora rejects him and dresses up for Oliver in an attempt to look more feminine while attending his coke-fueled parties. At times, there’s so much going on, with the melodrama being closer to classical Ibero-American soap operas, but Aguilera fortunately offers a  surprising twist by the conclusion, quoting a classic of the found-footage horror genre.

Viewers are encouraged to peep into Aurora’s room, based on a feeling of doing something illicit. The voyeur is a passive person, a guy who feeds his insatiable fantasies through images that he cannot intervene upon; a paradox for a film director who should control his work. Oliver calls his sister while he’s secretly filming her — an attempt to be in control, even when he’s not. He can verify if she’s lying, yet he can’t reveal why he knows. Cleverly, his control over “work” transfers to real life, as he acts up on sick intentions. By re-living various situations, the perverted person is satisfied without the action itself. And what if Aurora, too, is a voyeur? She enjoys the passive role of being watched and doesn’t seem to care about the reactions to her video. At the beginning, it seems that Oliver has a greater plan, like a tormented artist who crosses unimaginable borders for some undeclared purpose, as he never introduces auteur-driven questions into his justifications. While traditionally discussed in a Freudian key, the protagonists’ complexes seem more justified by the Westermark effect; the higher possibility of two siblings being attracted to each other if they didn’t grow up together.

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While a bit self-explanatory, Aurora’s therapy sessions reveal some key factors for the development of her situation. Oliver is not the typical fatherly figure that substitutes the dead parent, yet he is certainly an atypical role-model. Aurora reckons that she enjoyed the conflictual relationship that her brother had within the family, and while it disturbed her, it also aroused her attention, giving her the outburst she imagined. To me, Aurora projects her wild self by revolting in front of the family, messing with her dad (an Oedipal reaction) through Oliver’s actions. The brother represents Auror’s secret desire to rise up against her parents, to be independent and defy them with no visible reason. Endlessly, Pedro Aguilera’s bold film brings together wonderful performances that produce an intoxicating feeling of erotic tension. By framing Demonios tus ojos within the border-crossing of filmmaking, the boiling narrative reveals a compelling commentary about norms and taboos in an over sexualised society.

Andreea Pătru (@andreeapatru89) is a Romanian film critic and programmer who resides in Spain. Apart from taking part in the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy and Talents Sarajevo in 2016, she has written for Indiewire, Desistfilm and collaborated with Romanian outlets such as Film Reporter, Observator Cultural and FILM magazine. Andreea is a programmer at Tenerife Shorts – Tenerife International Short Film Festival and has previously worked for Romanian Film Promotion.

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