Review by Sean Boelman
With Shine Your Eyes, Brazillian filmmaker Matias Mariani has made one heck of a narrative feature debut, his film having far more personality than those made by most first-time directors. And while some of the movie’s ideas don’t exactly shine through, Mariani’s passion is obvious and effective.
The film follows a Nigerian man who travels to São Paulo in the hopes of finding his missing brother, but soon discovers that his brother may have been living a very different life from what he supposed. Ultimately, despite this relatively simple setup, there are so many additional layers to the plot that it eventually becomes a bit convoluted.
It seems that the biggest struggle that Mariani and the five other credited writers had was trying to find the right balance between the elements of mystery and melodrama in the narrative. The movie is at its best when it is in the latter mode, as these have much more of an emotional impact and feel far more authentic.
The idea of finding oneself in the search for someone else is nothing new for the genre, and so the film holds few thematic surprises, but it is in Mariani’s frequent poeticism that its charm lies. While frequent flashbacks create some issues with pacing, they have their intended effect more often than not.
And while the protagonist’s main arc is quite sympathetic, there isn’t enough going on in the various subplots to warrant the runtime devoted to them. Often, these threads serve only to reinforce the ideas introduced and explored in a more satisfying and thoughtful way through the main plot.
That said, the performance of OC Ukeje in the lead role is very good and serves as an excellent glue to hold the picture together. His interactions with the supporting players are great, but he is at his best when he has the scene all to himself, holding the movie up with his subtle emotion and humanity,
There are some very interesting things happening with the film’s execution, but not all of them are fully utilized. One of the most intriguing aspects that is never truly delivered upon is the musical portion of the movie. Largely relegated to the flashbacks, these moments are moving but had the potential to do much more had they been more prominent.
Shine Your Eyes is definitely a solid film, and it shows Matias Mariani’s tremendous potential. It’s a conventional story at times, but the empathetic touch lent to it by the filmmaker and cast goes a long way.
Shine Your Eyes streams on Netflix beginning July 29.