Interview: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER Director Nicolas Pesce
With a texture and mood as grim as the events that unfold within the seen lifetime of the film’s jaded young woman named Francisca, we are put to the challenge of understanding and questioning whether evil is nature or nurtured? This twisted puzzle is laid against a lush and haunting canvas of monochromatic perception in THE EYES OF MY MOTHER. We sat down with writer, director and editor Nicolas Pesce to talk classification, the influences of parents and the need of a friend.
This film is hard to classify. How do you feel people will react to it?
NP: I’m really excited because every festival I have been to so far, like in SUNDANCE we were not in the horror section but we were in with other art films. I tend to be the weird guy in the room whenever I’m at a festival. What’s been so awesome here (the recent Fantastic Fest) is that I am not the only weird guy! It’s like weird fish in the sea of weirder fish. I love that and I think, that I think that tonight screen will probably be the first thing that I don’t have any walk outs. This is gonna be the first time I have an audience who knows exactly what they’re getting themselves into and is ready and prepared for it. I’m also excited to see what actual horror fans think.
Looking at the character of Francisca’s development within the different sections of her life, is she mentally disabled, influenced or is she inherently evil?
NP: I don’t know if she would have done the things she did if her mother wasn’t killed in the way she was? I think that there definitely things about her psychologically that were always there and her circumstances probably poked at those sensitivities but I think that it’s hard to know and I think that a big thing for me with this character was that there are some people who kill people out of just the sheer lust for violence and they’re horrible and just somewhat chemically off.
I think more often than not it may not be neat and tidy but there probably is a reason they are the way they are whether it is physical and chemical or whether it is circumstantial and I think for this film it was about exploring kind of complexity of a combination of all of those things, you know. We obviously see before any trauma happens in her life that her and her mother are not the most normal people.
Like, cutting into cow heads and eyes.
NP: Exactly! The lessons that her mother may taught her may have gotten a very different context as she had grown older with her mother and learned why her mother was teaching her.
For instance, that cow eye dissection, I did that with my mom in real life. From my life, my mom was an eye doctor and we cut open cow eyes together to learn anatomy. She was a surgeon so she wanted to in part that on me and it was a very clinical, scientific exploration of anatomy but objectively watching that, that’s crazy! I think the benefit in my life was that my mom is still with me and I grew older I learned and understood why she was teaching me about that stuff.
In THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, this girl doesn’t get that she doesn’t get that! She doesn’t get the opportunity to understand what her mother taught her these things and in a way of giving in a context, giving it a meaning for her mother, she ends up using these skills her mother taught her in all the wrong ways. I think that you even see it with her mother and I don’t know how much you read into this but I alluded to there’s obviously something going on with her parents too. I think that whether her mother was killed or not, she probably would’ve not been the most normal girl but I’m not sure if she would’ve been a killer? I don’t necessarily think so.
I like the way that you leave it open and vague because you want the viewer’s perception and connection to a different experience.
That’s the sign of smart writing and smart filmmaking when it is all said and done. This kind of project where it’s black-and-white literally and figuratively, it’s a beautiful way of showcasing a very structured mind. That includes one aspect of the playmate for Francisca. You see this in several different incarnations in each of the three parts. Everything from the rag doll as a child to the to the aspect of keeping Charlie to keeping the mother of the baby later on. Can you talk about this aspect and companionship?
NP: The movie to me is at the heart of it is about loneliness, it’s about a girl who lost her mother and doesn’t know how to cope with everything that she’s feeling. She in the same way as if used found an injured dog running around your backyard, she takes these people in and what I always said is even when she removed these people eyes, she’s doing it so lovely and whatever the logic in her head is she’s doing good for them.
For the man who killed her mom, she like grows to love this guy and she takes care of him. He’s like a pet to the point where there is a moment she wants him to be her companion and he wants to leave, that ruins her. The more of keeping these hostages it’s more her wanting a friend and not understanding that that these people don’t want to be here.
The ramifications of it all and in each stage you have the person who killed mom, you have the aspect of the father and then you go ahead and see with the family at the end but we will leave that for those who have not experience this yet.
The aspect of monochromatic, the aspect of black-and-white from the technical side, it’s not only beautiful for the mindset which parallels the entire mood and feel of the film. Also for the shots of woods, the aspects of the fields. There is no color to it, it’s just vast, it’s all about dread, it’s endless. Can you talk about that aspect of it with doing it in black-and-white and such wide scope shots?
NP: Yeah, the aesthetics started as a love letter to the type of horror movie that I like and the type of horror movie that I think this is, which is that late 50s/early 60s American gothic from like William Castle/NIGHT OF THE HUNTER all that sort of stuff.
That is a great example and influence on the film.
NP: This is NIGHT OF THE HUNTER if the children didn’t get rescued. It started there and that was aesthetic jumping off point that whether the audience had seen NIGHT OF THE HUNTER or THE TWILIGHT ZONE or any of that stuff, hopefully it would harken to PSYCHO or whatever their impression of a black-and-white horror film was. When Hitchcock made PSYCHO, movies were in color. He made the choice to make it into black-and-white because he did something to mood and made it, made the imagery murkier, you could play with the shadows in a more expressionist way. I think in this, it allowed me to play with tone, mood and dread in a way that I wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise at the scale we were at. There are a lot of things. For instance, all the daylight shots are outside being at night with lights. We lit those, we lit the sky. Like everything is lit and then like the nighttime shots are during the day and we under exposed them.
NP: We were playing with all these techniques that filmmakers used to do in the 50s and 60s with black-and-white that we could use with modern technology to get these similar effects and you will notice that anytime there’s a wide shot outside the sky is dark black but you could still see all the highlights on the trees and is actually the daytime! Being able to have it be night and see these trees…
It’s almost inverted.
NP: Yeah! I think that it added to a visual complexity that allowed us to play around.
Did the shooting style or technique have anything to do with the aspect or process of light refracting through the eyes and it being reversed?
NP: No. I didn’t think of that. That’s very interesting! I think that it lends its self-story wise I think, out of her psychology I don’t think she see this world as a colorful world and I think this is exactly her perception of the world and it’s just projected out in this very stylistic, cold and very Black and white world.
The aspect of casting for Francisca, the two different actresses playing the three different stages of her life. How complex was it to cast and how fortunate do you feel to have the talent for this role and film?
NP: Very fortunate, I met Kika (Magalhaes) the actress that plays Francisca when I was directing a music video when I use to do them. I did a music video with her and she’s not particularly dark in real life but the way she moves and the facial mannerisms are her. That is the way she is in real life. In working with her, I found it so interesting and captivating an otherworldly almost and when we eventually cast is really difficult to find a little girl who could handle the actual density of the performance with like obviously no child was going to fully understand what they are doing there. To have someone who could sort of understand and I wouldn’t have to like skirt around.
You hear stories from THE SHINING where they literally had actor Danny Lloyd in other rooms, I didn’t want to have to do that. Then it was even harder to find parents who were like, “Yeah, let our child touch a dead cow head.” When we eventually found Olivia Bond this girl is amazing and she was so smart. If there is a little girl that could fully internalize everything that Francisca went through, this girl did and her parents let her stick her hands all over a dead cow and she was great! She spent a lot of time with Kika to so they could sort of bond and the little girls I find imitate those who they admire.