Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imagine that the water jug contains all the information in the universe. Most of us see only what is filtered through our senses, as if it were strained through a napkin into a glass. Because of her childhood illness, Joana (Bárbara Goenaga) has no filter. Information pours into her until it overflows.

Joana is the only child of optical industrialist Artur Prats (Sergi Mateu). Her father's deep love for her infuses the early part of this remarkable film. In his care she has everything provided for her; she has been protected, as far as possible, from the distress caused by her disability, which makes it hard for her to recognise objects and people, hard to move around. She has also had no need to grow up. Artur longs to find a cure for her before he dies, but it is not to be. The downside of his wealth and success is that he can trust nobody, perhaps not even the doctor who promises so much. When he dies, he leaves her in the hands of her fiance Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), and at the mercy of hostile forces bent on extracting his industrial secrets from her.

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Agnosia is a majestic film, filled with stunning imagery from the very first scene. It's so poetic, so beautiful, and so perfectly judged that the viewer is swept along by the story, accepting its bizarre twists and turns absolutely. It is only later, when one has had the time to sit back and apply one's own filters, to process that overdose of sensory information, that one realises how clever it is too. There are multiple stories here, multiple possibilities nested inside one another. Like the best poetry, Agnosia is also a puzzle, perhaps with multiple solutions.

Félix Gómez is Vicent, young, earnest, and possessed of a sadness that only Joana notices - for all her difficulties she's smart and resourceful and she has learned to pay more attention to the world than those around her. Vicent also happens to bear a striking physical resemblance to Carlos. Can he be used to extract from her the precious formula? It's a dangerous scheme, the more so because the resemblance between the men is not merely physical; in her presence their identities seem to converge; he too may be falling in love with her. Meanwhile Carlos, who finds it difficult to express his love, not knowing how to get close to Joana, finds solace with sex workers who look like her; it's a world of blurred identities, of feelings expressed through illusory glances. Line after line could be spoken by either man, its meaning subtly shifted. The audience, too, may find it hard to discern what is real, though the film remains compulsive viewing despite that. Joana, meanwhile, may understand more than she reveals, but what does she want the truth to be? Can illusions be worth more than what is real? Vicent produces a flower from behind the ear of a servant girl; it's a cheap parlour trick, but it delights her.

Agnosia is an easy film to love; a difficult film, for some, to like. The moral dilemmas it explores are often deeply uncomfortable. It unfolds like a traditional morality play, or like an opera, with a grand operatic finale. The score is sumptuous, matched perfectly to every moment. There are stage props everywhere; artificial rooms, curtains concealing secret doorways, trapdoors, catwalks, dangling pieces of rope. The experience is theatrical to the point where one almost expects to see a different story on a second viewing - and it's just possible that one will. Films like this are rare treasures. Don't miss it.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2011
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A young woman with a rare sensory disorder finds herself threatened by a mysterious conspiracy as she strives to guard her wealthy father's secret.
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Director: Eugenio Mira

Starring: Martina Gedeck, Eduardo Noriega, Félix Gómez

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Spain


Glasgow 2011

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