Review: Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes (José Luis Torres Leiva)

Editor’s Note: At last year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival Cédric Succivalli interviewed director José Luis Torres Leiva for ICS about his film Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes. The film is currently playing in the online (this year) LGBTI film festival of the Spanish Centro Niemeyer, and Luis Felipe Raguá Miranda  gives us his throughts on the film.

There is something majestic in embracing your own death. It means the abandonment of fear and the acceptance of the transience of life. Not fighting death can be a political act that questions some of the premises upon which so-called progress is made, namely our desire to stay young, to avoid pain, to extend life. Such an act is taken early on in José Luis Torres Leiva’s Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes by one of a couple of women who seem to have been together for most of their lives. Her body starts to slowly fade, her temper to flare, and her lover stays next to her through it all.

The bodies of Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes usually fill up the screen, alone or in pairs. The tactile camera lingers on faces, mostly, but also in little details or gestures–the soft bloating of a body breathing, the reassuring touch of a loved one’s fingers in your hair. When the characters are not in close-up, shallow focus makes everything blurred so we focus on them. When we see them from afar, they’re usually approaching one another, and then sticking together. This is an intimate film, intensely engaged with the people in it and the bonds between them. With scarce but poignant dialogues, the effect is startling: the two protagonists are no longer characters written for the screen, but people inhabiting it. There is something of Weerasethakul, something of Guadagnino and something of Guiraudie in Torres Leiva’s film, but it feels like its own thing.

The story is paused two times when one of the women tells two different tales that play out like parables. The first one involves an elderly woman who finds an indigenous girl in the forest, and takes her home. The girl’s inability to use the silverware and her eagerness to go out during a rainstorm starkly contrast with the woman’s sophistication, and yet the woman is enchanted by the girl’s attitude. She tries to shelter her, but her intentions are misguided, for she does not understand what the girl actually wants. The second tale follows a married man who is captivated by a younger man he sees bathing naked in a river. A brief affair with the young man marks him for life. The married man goes back to his family, and we don’t hear from the young one again. We do know, however, that he is not married and is without children, which seems to captivate the older man.

Both stories are concerned with contrasting different ways of inhabiting the world. The obsession in public discourse with ‘generations’ (Gen Z, millennials, boomers, etc.) has at its core a curiosity and a fascination for the world of possibilities that youth represents. In these stories the older characters are entranced by the younger ones, who are portrayed as effortlessly free beings. “Your freedom is my freedom“, says the old woman to the girl, trying somehow to live through her but inevitably failing to do so. Her home, a shelter, means nothing for the girl who is at ease in the wild. The young are idealized, not yet tainted by the constraints of ‘civilization’ and all the systems that have been put in place to reproduce it: the heterosexual family, the comforts of urban life, the over-reliance on Western medicine.

And so through the simple story of a woman who chooses to let her body finish its natural cycle, Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes subtly questions the institutions our society takes for granted. Sometimes such an act can be truly revolutionary.