Split identity, the eternal threat of the libido to break loose, and the power of the human imagination are some of the themes explored in “Look Me in the Eye,” Nick Ward’s visually striking, postmodern psycho-sexual thriller. Though borrowing elements from two quintessential 1960s movies, Antonioni’s “Blowup” and Bunuel’s “Belle de jour,” pic succeeds in establishing its individuality. Prospects for theatrical release are excellent for this innovative art film, which can be enjoyed on a number of levels.
Ruth (Caroline Catz) is neither as stunningly beautiful as “Belle de jour’s” Catherine Deneuve nor as intriguingly mysterious as “Blowup’s” Vanessa Redgrave. But like those heroines, she’s a complex woman, clearly dissatisfied with her teaching job and recent marriage to a rather conservative hubby (Seamus Gubbins).
One day, sitting in a coffee shop, Ruth encounters Thomas (Barnaby Stone), a brilliant photographer. Instantly intrigued, she asks him to take some erotic pictures of her. But when she realizes that Thomas has secretly been photographing her for two years — at her wedding, at school, on the train she rides to work — she sneaks into his studio and destroys all his photos and negatives.
This daring act puts her in a state of perpetual anxiety, fearing that Thomas will come back for revenge. Sure enough, 18 months later he reappears, and it’s hardly a surprise that this rendezvous occurs during a nasty rainstorm.
Understanding that the manner in which the story is told is far more important than its contents — or even plausibility — writer/director Ward constructs a fascinating, dark world, one grounded in reality but also benefitting from Ruth’s extraordinary imagination and sexual fantasies.
Ward contrasts Ruth’s ordinary existence as a wife and mother in the ‘burbs with the potentially dangerous games she plays on her own in the city. Gradually , the noirish erotic tale takes the shape of an obsessive love affair, set against the bleak urban landscape of London’s King’s Cross, which is wonderfully captured by Seamus McGarvey’s stylish lensing.
In the dual role of Ruth and Sian, the prostitute Thomas befriends, Catz renders an inspired, always sympathetic performance, based on physical grace as well as verbal charm. Catz’s attractive, though non-glamorous, appearance lends the film a credible focus, reinforcing the universality of sexual fantasies.
Ward’s ingenious cutting and sharp editing are full of tricky shots that bring snap to the story’s suspense. A voyeuristic scene in which Ruth watches Thomas making love through a keyhole in his studio is shot and cut with great wit and precision.
In its consistently mysterious mood, multi-layered narrative and intricate storytelling devices, “Look Me in the Eye” bears some resemblance to “Blowup” and David Hare’s “Wetherby.” It’s a tribute to the director’s assurance and integrity that only seldom do the film’s sensory impressions outweigh his thematic insights into Ruth’s tormented persona. For connoisseurs of style and technique, pic’s look and sound provide pleasures of a high cinematic order.