The Invisible Eye -- Film Review

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CANNES -- A repressed young woman enforces discipline in a rigid upper-crust school in Buenos Aires, at the same time Argentines are taking to the street to bring down the military dictatorship. Set in 1982 around the time of the Falklands war, "The Invisible Eye" directed by Diego Lerman ("Suddenly," "Meanwhile") re-creates the foreboding, oppressive atmosphere of the historical moment without going very deeply into its causes or effects. Young Julieta Zylberberg's piquant perf as a sexually repressed martinet should, however, attract a certain amount of attention and will prove either a turn-on or a turn-off for viewers.

Films warning against the dangers of an overly-rigorous educational system are practically a genre in themselves, from Jean Vigo's "Zero de conduite" and Lindsay Anderson's "If" all the way to "The White Ribbon." In fact, Lerman opens the film as though following in Michael Haneke's footsteps: Maria, a strict school mistress (Zylberberg), orders a class of teenagers into line with icy cruel authority. Though only 23, her hairstyle is so severe and her expression so humorless, she resembles the Wicked Witch of the West as a girl.

Maria's zeal is thoroughly approved of by the head supervisor, Mr. Biasutto (Osmar Nunez), a sinisterly repressive figure who equates "subversion," like passing notes in class, with cancer. The students at this elite academy show a zombielike obedience to the absurdly strict rules. Maria, on the other hand, begins to reveal some cracks in her perfect facade. For example, she develops a crush on one of the students, sniffing his underwear on the sly, while allowing the older Biasutto to court her out of school.

Things get even kinkier after Biasutto suggests she devote herself to constant surveillance of the pupils and become "an invisible eye," noting their deviations from school discipline. Hiding in a toilet stall, she begins to spy on the boy's lavatory.

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Lerman grows as a director film by film, here showing he can handle a more classic narrative (adapted from the novel by Martin Kohan) and setting without abandoning quirky characters who have their own weird depth. Zylberberg creates a highly memorable Maria, though at the high cost of sacrificing audience sympathy and involvement, which goes double for the calmly villainous Nunez. In contrast, Marita's granny is played with lovely individuality and warmth by Marta Lubos.

Alvaro Gutierrez's beautifully wrought cinematography suggests offbeat eerieness with enormous class.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight
Sales: Pyramide International
Production companies: Campo Cine, Agat Films & Cie, Imval Producciones,
Mediagrama
Cast: Julieta Zylberberg, Osmar Nunez, Marta Lubos, Gaby Ferrero, Diego
Vegezzi, Pablo Sigal
Director: Diego Lerman
Screenwriters: Diego Lerman, Maria Meira, based on a novel by Martin Kohan.
Producers: Nicolas Avruj, Diego Lerman, Dominique Barneaud, Marc Bordure,
Luis Angel Ramirez Perez, Rafael Alvarez, Ignacio Monge
Director of photography: Alvaro Gutierrez
Production designer: Yamila Fortun
Music: Jose Villalobos
Costume designer: Sandra Fink
Editor: Alberto Ponce
No rating, 95 minutes
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