If Iciar Bollain's Take My Eyes is reliable evidence, then the phenomenon of the abused woman is something new in Spain ... not that it hasn't always happened, but rather that Spanish women have let it happen without complaint, and that Spanish men thought it was their right to hit their wives.
Certainly many American men still believe the same thing. It's just that Americans talk about it, and American television has made movies about it for decades.
In fact, Take My Eyes ... which won eight Spanish Academy Awards ... is as much sociology as drama. How many times have we seen this scenario on Lifetime TV? And yet, the success of Take My Eyes would suggest that for Spanish movie audiences, it's something altogether new.
The drama opens with Pilar (Laia Marull), an abused wife, hastily throwing things into a suitcase and leaving home with her young son. She doesn't even realize until she's on the bus that she's wearing her slippers. Her sister, Ana, takes her in and gets her a job, where she meets some empowered gal pals who engage in raunchy talk at lunch. This is a whole new world to the sheltered Pilar.
Ana is engaged to John, the perfect man: He's gentle, he does the dishes ... and he's Scottish. (Attention Spanish men: Are you taking notes?) Their widowed mother, Aurora, a handsome woman who looks modern, casually goads her daughters with tradition: Will they join her in the family cemetery plot, will Ana wear a big white wedding dress that Aurora found for her? The answer to both questions is, more or less, "Go away, Mother." Where Ana believes Pilar should talk openly about the abuse, Aurora would rather not know, and she tells her daughters, "A woman is never better off alone."
Pilar's angry, frightened, controlling husband, Antonio (Luis Tosar), has horribly low self-esteem and doesn't understand why his wife won't believe he'll "change." He joins a therapy group, where men sit in a circle and say things like, "Women have lots of ways to drive you nuts," and, "She provokes me just so I'll beat her." Therein lies the problem. But one testimony leaves them speechless: Two years ago, this man thought like the rest of them, until he realized his wife was suffering, and that he was provoking himself to violence against her. Bollain teaches many lessons like this for her male audience, and she ends with a shot of Antonio, as if to tell men: Look at what you'll lose if you don't get it together.
Take My Eyes is as solidly made and sincere as it is unspectacular, as edifying as it is dry. Bollain seeks to do what Pedro Almodovar's innovative work has done for decades: She dissects Spanish machismo, but from a woman's point of view, and as sociology rather than pop culture. So as a glimpse into a still-emerging post-Franco Spain, it's an interesting tract. In Spanish, with subtitles.