Review by Daniel Lima
Acting might be the single most emotionally challenging element of film craft. To be able to perform for an audience — even if that audience is simply cast and crew — requires a baseline degree of openness, a willingness to look like a complete fool in search of emotional honesty, that most people simply aren't capable of. Brando with a Glass Eye attempts to use that as the foundation of an introspective character study and the life of the artistic mind, but unfortunately, that introspection slowly reveals itself to amount to nothing.
Yiannis Niarros is a struggling actor in Greece who is completely committed to his art, frequently engaging in outrageous performance art and intense acting exercises both in public and private. When given an opportunity to audition for a spot at a prestigious school in New York, he attempts a robbery with his brother, which ends with a bystander being shot. He begins to befriend his none-the-wiser victim, and as his guilt mounts and that friendship deepens, the lines between the roles he plays and reality start to disintegrate. At least, that seems to be the intent.
From the jump, the film's weakest part is that the main character is not at all compelling. Part of this is by design; he spends so much time wrapping himself up in these layers of abstraction to the point neither the people around him nor the audience is clear on whether he's performing a bit at any given moment — that there are only occasional glimpses of the man underneath. The problem is that neither these performances nor the person beneath them are compelling. His friends say he's genuinely a talented actor, but he comes off as more of a try-hard enamored with the idea of being an artist than a good one himself. That dichotomy could itself be compelling, but the film never truly interrogates it. Besides, the man is so unpleasant even when he isn't "on," it's a wonder anyone would want to spend time with him.
That is actually another major issue, as most of the drama of the film concerns his relationships with others. His strained relationship with his brother is easily the strongest part of the film, with their competing visions of the future and the death of their mother creating the only real sparks. His friendships with fellow artists — and affair with one friend's partner — provide little context to his character, and even the specter of his mother, as ever-present as it is, offers little insight beyond the obvious. Since the interactions he shares with them aren't inherently enjoyable — he's unpleasant, they largely lack distinct personalities, and the dialogue they share isn't funny or charged — all this feels purposeless.
Nowhere is this more glaring than his burgeoning friendship with the man he shoots. Revealed to be a thoroughly unpleasant bourgeois bored by his own wealth, one would expect their new bond to highlight something distinct about the two men, or for the film to tackle the class divide between them, or play the inherent irony of the situation for laughs or tension, or use it as a springboard for a deeper examination of the guilty man's psyche. None of these possibilities ever come to pass, and the slow realization that the time they spend with each other is nothing more than it seems is aggravating.
The most that can be said in defense of Brando with a Glass Eye is that the aimless and ambiguous portrait of Niarros' self-involved actor is meant to be frustratingly opaque, that the character cultivates an enigmatic air about him that is meant to obscure the emptiness within in. Its depiction of that, however, is inert, skin deep, and most damning of all, dull. No film should be expected to hand out easy answers, but it should at least hold attention while asking questions.
Brando with a Glass Eye is screening at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival, running January 19-25 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 22-28.