Proper Eyes (Sus ojos propios) (unrated) ** ½

 

It's an engaging tale, but don't look too close.

Proper Eyes
Ana Carbajal, left, and Mara Santucho play the young film students in search of a story. FIGA FILMS
 

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

In the low-key Argentine drama Proper Eyes (Sus ojos propios), film-school students Alicia (Ana Carbajal) and Virginia (Mara Santucho) hang around the gates of a prison in Cordoba, trying to interview the women waiting to visit their husbands and sons.

The budding filmmakers find few takers except for Elsa (Luisa Nunez), a chatty, animated woman whose son Luis (Maximiliano Gallo) is awaiting trial for a petty crime. Elsa tells the young women to come to her house at 4 p.m. the next day, and she'll gladly tell them her story. But when they arrive, Elsa shoos them away, claiming she had forgotten about a previous engagement.

Then Elsa flakes out on another appointment, and Alicia starts to suspect she'll never get the woman to sit down before her camera. When cornered, Elsa sheepishly admits she's been dodging the filmmakers and strikes a deal: If Alicia visits Luis in jail, Elsa swears she will go through with the interview.

By this point, writer-director Liliana Paolinelli has hooked the viewer with her premise (why is Elsa being so flaky, and why does she want a stranger to visit her son?), and an unaffected, naturalistic style that allows the performances to shine. Nuñez is excellent as the likable yet exasperating mother who keeps changing her mind, and Carbajal is good at conveying her character's combination of seemingly infinite patience and growing exasperation.

But Proper Eyes disappoints in terms of its story, which turns out to be too slight. Neither trenchant enough to serve as a psychological portrait of women with loved ones in prison nor eventful enough to engross purely with its plot, the movie ends up as a showcase for its actors and Paolinelli's unobtrusive approach to filmmaking, which merits a meatier, more impactful script than Proper Eyes provides.

Cast: Ana Carbajal, Luisa Nuñez, Maximiliano Gallo, Mara Santucho.

Writer-director: Liliana Paolinelli.

Producers: Paula Grandio, Cristina Fasulino, Sol Martorell.

A Figa Films release. Running time: 81 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Brief vulgar language. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.

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