A Mexico City social worker steals the corneas of a drug-addicted client to prevent her young son from going blind in “Through the Eyes.” Despite this lurid premise, the latest tale of social issues and family relationships from helmer-producer-writer-editor Michel Franco (“After Lucia,” “Daniel & Ana”), co-directing this time with his sister Victoria, is no expose of organ trafficking. Rather, it’s a disappointing, resolutely non-sensationalistic docu-drama hybrid that takes elliptical storytelling to the max. Combining long, static shots and performances of uninflected naturalism, the end result borders on boring even as it begs numerous questions. Neither commercial nor fest prospects appear promising.
Single mother Monica (Monica del Carmen) works with homeless teens, helping them get off drugs and occasionally off the street. She counts many pregnant girls among the clients she visits and counsels. Meanwhile, her 11-year-old son, Omar (Omar Moreno), develops vision problems due to keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea. She learns that a corneal transplant represents his only hope of regaining his sight, but the public health system can make no promises about when a donor might be available for him.
One night, 16-year-old junkie Benjamin (Benjamin Espinoza), a former client, winds up drugged and beaten outside Monica’s door. Next thing you know, he’s on a hospital trolley, prepped for surgery with Omar on the next trolley over.
Not only is it unclear as to just where this procedure is taking place, but the film never explains how Monica manages to persuade a surgeon to do it, or how she covers the costs. Even if viewers are willing to suspend disbelief here, the Francos continually challenge their good faith by omitting difficult/explanatory moments and avoiding any sort of character psychology, undercutting interest in the characters and their plights.
After the surgery, Monica houses and feeds Benjamin and buys him new clothes; she tells him his vision loss resulted from the beating he took. When Benjamin expresses the desire to visit an ophthalmologist because his eyesight has not improved, another jump cut leads back to the operating theater.
There’s no getting around the fact that “Through The Eyes” feels like two completely different movies, which do each other no favors as grafted together here. On one hand, there is the social-work docu (Victoria Franco previously helmed a documentary about Casa Alianza, a shelter for homeless youth that is cited here) that randomly reveals details of the troubled existence of Mexico City street people. On the other we find material for a classic melodrama that is instead played straight, and stretched so thin that it leaves gaping holes in its wake.
Although del Carmen is a trained thesp, her performance is as unmodulated and monotonous as the improvised playing of the non-pro actors. Energetic moments, such as when an elderly neighbor rolls out tortillas as she tries to get Omar talking, or when the boys bring home a playful kitten, are few and far between. Tech aspects are subpar; music used is strictly diegetic.