Open Your Eyes

Spain/France/Italy 1997

Reviewed by Paul Julian Smith


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

A prison cell in an unnamed city, the present. César, a 25-year-old in a prosthetic mask, tells his story to psychiatrist Antonio. Flashbacks reveal the following events.Good-looking César is attractive to women. At his birthday party he flirts with Sofía, the girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo. The next morning, he accepts a lift from his obsessive ex-lover Nuria. She crashes the car, committing suicide, and César is horribly disfigured, beyond the help of cosmetic surgery. Sofía prefers Pelayo again.

Drunk, César falls asleep in the street. On awakening everything has changed: Sofía now claims to love him and the surgeons restore his lost looks. But while making love to Sofía one night, she apparently changes into Nuria. Horrified, César murders her, yet finds everyone else believes Nuria was indeed Sofía.

While he is confined to the prison, fragments of his past return to him as if in a dream. César realises he visited a company called Life Extension. Returning to their headquarters, under strict supervision by prison officers, he discovers they specialise in cryogenics with a twist: "artificial perception" or the provision of a fantasy based on the past to clients who are reborn in the future. Convinced his life since the drunken night in the street is simply a nightmarish vision created by Life Extension, César leaps from the roof of the company's high-rise headquarters, resolving to open his eyes once more to real life outside the cryogenic fantasy.


Alejandro Amenábar is the archetypal Spanish movie brat. Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1972 and taken to Spain as a child after the fall of Allende, Amenábar attended the film school at Madrid's Complutense University, where he famously failed the narrative component of the course. His revenge at the age of just 24 was Tesis/Thesis, a sleek, taut thriller on the theme of snuff movies in which the serial killer, a professor of media studies, was given the same name as Amenábar's own luckless tutor. Shown in the UK only at the London Film Festival, Tesis was a sensation in Spain, where it had almost a million domestic admissions and won a clutch of Goyas, the Spanish Oscars.

Both Tesis and its successor Abre los ojos are shot in Madrid, but set in an abstract modern metropolis emptied of all local reference; their cinematic predecessors are not Spanish but American films. Like his US heroes, Amenábar knows no world but cinema. This is clear not only from the explicit references to, say, Vertigo scattered throughout Abre los ojos, but also from the way film-making is woven into a plot in which reality and illusion become indistinguishable. At the very start, in the credit sequence, a film crew is shooting in Madrid's Gran Vía as main character César cruises by in his sports car; half way into the film, the plot segues into fantasy, an invisible transition described by one character with the cinematic term "splice".

The most successful moments, however, are not those which cite Hitchcock (such as the camera circling the embracing César and Sofía, shadowing Scotty and Madeleine), but those that reveal Amenábar's own distinctively chilly style: the traffic-choked Gran Vía is suddenly emptied of life, or a crowded discotheque inexplicably falls silent. One of the few directors young enough to give a convincing account of youthful hedonism, Amenábar can also turn that same facile pleasure inside out, revealing the hollowness of the cult of looks so prized in both clubs and cinema. The big-budget Amenábar won after the success of Tesis is all on the screen here, in the sexy interiors (César's sterile loft, all glass brick and gunmetal blue) and the spectacular exteriors (the Picasso Tower skyscraper on whose roof the climax is played out).

There are some apposite ironies in the casting also. Handsome Eduardo Noriega (César) and plain Fele Martínez (best friend Pelayo) were previously teamed in Tesis; and once César is disfigured, their positions are reversed (Pelayo wins back Sofía, whom César had taken from him). The theme of identity as performance is fully explored, with characters constantly changing roles and repeating each other's dialogue: the fact that the Spanish words for face and mask are so similar (cara and carete) helps here. Since Abre los ojos was wrapped, Martínez has been teamed by Julio Medem with Najwa Nimri (Amenábar's scarlet woman Nuria) in The Lovers of the North Pole while Penélope Cruz (sweet Sofía) has won fame abroad as the sacrificial nun in Almodóvar's All about My Mother.

Amenábar's next project is an English-language feature with Nicole Kidman - and remake rights for Abre los ojos are said to have been sold to Tom Cruise. It's not surprising Abre los ojos' flashy visuals have brought Amenábar to the attention of Hollywood; he shares the US thriller genre's lack of concern for narrative logic. Abre los ojos, chilling in parts, especially when the truly disturbing Nimri is in the driving seat, runs out of steam before the final plot twists, and there's too much expository dialogue dutifully describing psychiatry and cryogenics. Nonetheless, Amenábar's virtuoso style and connection to the youth audience, both of which are resented by the Spanish film establishment, make him a plausible model outside Spain for a European cinema that bridges the gap between arthouse and mainstream.


Alejandro Amenábar
Alejandro Amenábar
Mateo Gil
Director of Photography
Hans Burmann
Maria Elena Sainz de Rozas
Art Director
Wolfgang Burmann
Alejandro Amenábar
Mariano Marin
©Sociedad General de Cine, S.A./Las Producciones del Escorpion, S.L./Les Films Alain Sarde/Lucky Red SRL
Production Companies
A production of José Luis Cuerda for Sogetel/Las Producciones del Escorpion/Les Films Alain Sarde/Lucky Red with the participation of Sogepaq and the collaboration of Canal+ España
Supported by Eurimages
Executive Producers
Fernando Bovaira
José Luis Cuerda
Associate Producers
Ana Amigo
Alain Sarde
Andrea Occhipinti
Production Manager
Emiliano Otegui
Assistant Directors
Ignacio Gutierrez-Solana
Raul Otegui
Mateo Gil
Script Supervisor
Carmen Soriano
2nd Unit Camera Operators
Wolfgang Burmann
Pablo Hernández
Mateo Gil
Visual Effects
Molinare, S.A.
Alberto Esteban
Flame Operator:
Aurelio Sánchez-Herrera
3D Imagery
Post Data
3D Operators:
Félix Bergés
Pedro Blanco
Juan Antonio Ruiz
Belen Arsuaga
Ricardo Gómez
Inés Montero
Special Effects
Reyes Abades
Set Decorator
Carola Angulo
Natalia Montes
Sergio Rozas
Concha Solera
Paca Almenara
Silvie Imbert
Special Make-up Effects
Colin Arthur
Dream Factory
Luna de Madrid
Carlos Santos
Music Performed by
Orquesta Filarmónica de Praga
Orchestra Director
Mario Klemens
Music Producer
Juan Carlos Cuello
Sintonía S.A.
Music Production Manager
Bartolomé Espadalé
Music Mixing Engineers
José Vinader
Eduardo Ruiz Joya
"Rising Son" by Andrew Vowles, Robert Del Naja, Grantley Marshall, performed by Massive Attack; "How Do" (trad), arranged by Line of Flight, performed by Sneaker Pimps; "El Detonator" by F. Alfaro, performed by Chucho; "Flying Away" by Marc Lee Brown, C. Franck, Nina Isabela Rocha Miranda, performed by Smoke City; "Tremble Goes the Night" by Chris Eckman, performed by The Walkabouts; "Sick of You" by A. Legardón, Onion, performed by Onion; "Glamour" by A. López, J.A. López, J. Díaz, performed by Amphetamine Discharge; "Arrefice" by F. Pardo, D. Krahe, performed by Los Coronas; "T-Sebo" by B. García, F.J. Ferrero, performed by Side Effects; "Yo Mismo" by A. Olmedo, performed by If
Goldstein & Steinberg
Dubbing Mixer
Patrick Ghislain
Sound Editors
Nacho Royo
Pelayo Gutierrez
Sound Effects
Julien Naudin
Eduardo Noriega
Penélope Cruz
Chete Lera
Fele Martínez
Najwa Nimri
Gérard Barray
Jorge de Juan
department head
Miguel Palenzuela
Pedro Miguel Martínez
chief doctor
Ion Gabella
paranoic recluse
Joserra Cadiñanos
Tristan Ulloa
Pepe Navarro
TV presenter
Walter Prieto
Carola Angulo
Fanny Solorzano
Luis García
Javier Martín
jury guards
José Luis Manrique
Richard Cruz
Raul Otegui
service boy
the cat
Redbus Films
10,717 feet
119 minutes 5 seconds
Dolby stereo digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011