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JULIA’S EYES could be Spanish director Guillem Morales’ key
to Hollywood. Produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring the gorgeous Belén
Rueda (reuniting in those capacities from the highly regarded THE ORPHANAGE),
the film has already been a hit in its home country and others, and arrives in
the U.S. this week on VOD and in select theaters from IFC Films.
JULIA’S EYES, written by Morales and Oriol Paulo, plays with
the fine line dividing the visible from the invisible, the real from the
unreal, what we see from what we imagine. It does so by putting its heroine in
extreme situations, making her rebuild a puzzle even though she hardly has any
pieces. As Julia puts those pieces together, she becomes aware of something
horrible going on around her, something that nobody else seems to realize and
that will find her alone in the face of danger. The movie aims to place the spectator
in Julia’s point of view; her eyes are those of the audience, and what Julia
sees, they see. It is viewer complicity taken to its limits, an offer to play
both a formal and an emotional game, designed to trap the audience and drag
them along with her toward a darkness that hides something horrible.
Featuring stunning cinematography by Óscar Faura (who also
shot THE MACHINIST and THE ABANDONED), and the first European film to use the
Dolby Digital Surround 7.1 sound system, JULIA’S EYES relies heavily on a dark
and oppressive atmosphere, building a sense of fear that homages classic Dario
Argento and Mario Bava movies. Fango spoke with the Barcelona-born Morales at
last October’s Sitges film festival.
FANGORIA: What was the genesis of the script?
GUILLEM MORALES: I had the image of a blindfolded woman: She
has had eye surgery and has to wear her bandages for two solid weeks if she
wants to regain her sight, but if she accidentally takes her blindfold off, the
operation will be ruined. Somehow I thought that the woman, even with her
blindfold on, would start seeing things clearer than ever. That was all I knew
at the time. It was just an idea. But I knew there was a good story to tell
behind it. In the history of cinema, you can see several films featuring blind
women, as Richard Fleischer’s classic SEE NO EVIL. But very few films present a
character who is going blind, a woman who feels she is doomed to a world of
darkness and there is nothing she can do about it.
But it’s also a version of THE INVISIBLE MAN. In fact, when
we were in LA selling the movie, we’d be asked, “What is JULIA’S EYES about?”
And we’d say, “It’s a blind woman vs. the Invisible Man!” People were staring
at us. “What? What? How is that possible?”
FANG: You seem very fascinated by that idea.
MORALES: Yes, I think it’s an intriguing concept to stretch
in a movie. JULIA’S EYES is not a film about a blind woman. It’s a film about a
woman who is going blind. It describes her evolution from a psychological,
emotional and horrific point of view. Losing something is always terrible.
Losing things you have or you have obtained, sometimes they are just material
things, but sometimes they are people or feelings. Losing something always
implies a sort of mourning, and mourning is never pleasant. But in turn, losing
something always means winning something else. And that’s where we needed to
stop. Because there is nothing sad or terrible there. Going blind is not
pleasant, but it does not mean the world ends there and then. It means a
transformation. And a transformation is a painful process, but also an
incredibly positive one if you take it like it is, an evolution. Going blind is
not as important as our attitude toward the change itself, and that is Julia’s
This idea let me play with the eyes of the audience.
Sometimes things are quite obvious and sometimes they are not, and that’s
exactly where one of the most fascinating parts stems from: making the audience
suffer a certain degree of blindness with Julia. And not through subjective shots
from Julia’s character, but through a visual commitment, an unspoken agreement
with the audience that I use from the very beginning of the story, in order to
“blind the viewer” without having to resort to a black screen. I was obsessed
with the idea of somehow making them share Julia’s emotional experience, and I
believe we got away with it. I can assure you that, at some point during the
film, the spectator goes blind in a cinematic way.
FANG: How did Guillermo del Toro got involved in the
MORALES: Guillermo had seen my first film, THE UNINVITED
GUEST, and he thought it was great. Then someone gave him the screenplay of
JULIA’S EYES, he read it and wanted to talk with me, so I had a meeting in
London with him and the producers. Universal Pictures saw this as an excellent
opportunity to start their first production in Spain, and from that moment on
Guillermo was tied to the project.
FANG: What were the differences between filming JULIA’S EYES
and THE UNINVITED GUEST?
MORALES: Well, the first thing was that I had more money—the
budget was 5 million euros—and more time. I was much more relaxed, and
therefore able to better manage the tension. Since Guillermo was involved since
the beginning, when there was just the screenplay, he helped me keep the
pressure down. He’s a great guy, always there with you, giving plenty of
advice, but he lets you work; he doesn’t try to impose his ideas.
FANG: How was it working with Belén Rueda as your lead?
MORALES: Belén immersed herself so deep in her role that she
almost gave me and the rest of the troupe heart attacks! During the film, there
is a moment in which someone threatens her by getting the point of a knife up
to her eye, very close to her pupil. It was a big close-up and we could not use
a fake knife, because the lens was so close that you would have noticed it. It
had to be a real, sharp knife.
Of course, I had thought about using a trick, filming
Belén’s eyes and the cutting edge of the knife, then joining them digitally to
achieve the chilling final effect. But when the moment came, Belén and the
actor with the knife had been rehearsing the scene and had become so confident
in their self-control that they suggested doing it for real, with a sharp knife
and no tricks. I firmly refused. Digital integration would work; such risks
were unnecessary. But they insisted: “Let us try, Guillem, it’s all under
control, don’t worry,” they said. They looked so convinced that I finally gave
in. I said, “All right, but just once, and be extremely careful.” I just thought
they’d use their common sense in the end, that they were only playing and that
it would not work. When we said “Action,” the knife got so close to Belén’s eye
that everyone’s blood ran cold. After we cut, we were all silent and horrified.
All except the actors, who walked over to the screen to see how it looked. They
watched the take and went pale. It’s a gorgeous shot, but I had nightmares for
a whole week, thinking what would have happened if Belén had sneezed in that
FANG: How would you describe your movie?
MORALES: I’d say this is mainly a thriller, with same horror
elements, as the killings are very gory. I’d say that it’s as if a Hitchcock
thriller met an Italian giallo. I am a defender of the genre. The thriller
encompasses other genres: drama, love story, you can include at the same time
social commentary. A thriller allows you to amplify emotions; you can be more
melodramatic, and if you’ve got a good story and you build it through a
thriller, you get a much better result. Guillermo says it is the kind of giallo
created in the ’60s and ’70s by Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I think it’s the
first feminist giallo, as usually this genre was very macho, and even though
the protagonist is going blind, I wanted her to look sexy, with high heels and
skirt; I mean, Belén is naturally sexy and has an incredible energy. At one
point she had to chase someone along a corridor, and she was running so fast
that she almost bumped into the camera, so I had to ask her, “Please, can you
FANG: Which influences have you had as a filmmaker?
MORALES: I love Bava and Argento, I love Hitchcock and
PSYCHO. We all grew up with these movies. Hitchcock used to create a very
psychological kind of cinema, and it’s the same language you see in JULIA’S
EYES. I like it because it’s classic cinema. I love the camerawork of Roman
Polanski also, and the movies of Nicolas Roeg. In terms of narrative, he’s one
of my favorite directors, but I love THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN as well.
That’s one of the most interesting movies; it’s incredible.
FANG: The movie has some moments of authentic terror.
MORALES: It’s a very strong psychological fear. To me, real horror is
just one step away from drama. A zombie, a monster or a ghost are fine, but
they’re creatures of fantasy. I love the fantastic—it’s a genre I know very
well—but I prefer to use a more psychological type of terror, much more
aggressive. You can’t find a way out; it’s more realistic.
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