Optical Illusions

Optical Illusions

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The difference between looking and seeing is explored in Cristien Jimenez's Optical Illusion. And, in fact, it's disillusionment that comes to the fore in this dry comedy of the absurd. Packed with characters, although eschewing the idea of a straightforward narrative, his film, co-scripted with Anna Scherson offers an insight into the lives of a loosely interlinked Chileans.

Among them - and something of a metaphor for the film as a whole - is Juan (Ovan Alvarez de Araya) a previously blind man who has recovered his sight by way of an operation at private health firm Vidasur. Although he can now technically 'see', he is struggling to process the information - "I was used to being blind," he says. When he puts his hands on a cube he sees perfectly well what it is, but asked merely to look at it, he hasn't a clue. This disconnection has huge implications for the other areas of his life. His blind girlfriend can't understand why he won't try harder, but then, she can't see what his problem is. Still, brash Vidasur manager Gonzalo (Alvaro Rudolphy) sees Juan's recovery from an entirely different perspective. His new-found "freedom" is just the thing for his firm's latest advertising campaign. His bosses would have to be blind not to see what a good idea it is.

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Of course, there are none so blind as those who will not see and, back at the mall, when newly appointed security guard Rafa (Eduardo Paxeco) spots rich kleptomaniac Rita (Valentian Vargas) in the act he comes to view it not as a chance to earn a work plaudit but as an opportunity for a relationship. Shame then about her estranged hubby Gonzalo - yes, the very same - who is not as out of the picture as Rafa first imagines.

Also, in this interconnected world, is the story of Manuela (Paola Lattus). She's Rafa's and just happens to work at Vidasur with Gonzalo. Her view of herself isn't too clever - she's considering boosting her bust courtesy of the company discount - but Gonzalo's pal David (Gregory Cohen) sees her in a different light, after their paths cross when he is laid-off, or rather, transferred to the euphemistically named "outplacement department". Like so many things in this movie, it's all just a matter of perspective.

Jimenez has a playful attitude to these characters, although there are serious underlying issues concerning self-esteem and, more politically, the state of the Chilean healthcare system and notions of surveillance. He frequently skews the viewer's perspective, showing us the out-of-focus world of Juan or thrusting his characters to the edges of the frame, so that we want to see more of what they are doing but can't. This offkilter style doesn't always fully come off and Juan's story, in particular, is at risk of getting thrust to one side altogether at one point but this is nonetheless an engaging film that, through its disparate subplots has a cumulative charm and something genuinely interesting to say about life and how we view it.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2011
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The lives of a group of Chileans interconnect with absurdly comic consequences.
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