Icíar Bollaín's harrowing domestic-abuse drama Take My Eyes plays like a grimly realistic arthouse variation on the old magazine fixture "Can this marriage be saved?" The film takes a painfully intimate look at the troubled union of frustrated working-class wife-beater Luis Tosar, a temperamental refrigerator salesman leading a life of increasingly loud desperation, and his intimidated wife Laia Marull.
As the film opens, Marull has fled her home in slippers with her young son after yet another incident of domestic violence. Marull tries to break the cycle of abuse by moving in with her sister and working as a museum guide, hoping to reclaim her autonomy in the face of her husband's bullying and belittlement. In an effort to win his wife back, Tosar enters group therapy to better understand his demons. He seems sincere about wanting to end his abusive ways and start over again with the only part of his life that's not a complete failure. But his history, explosive temper, and lifetime of frustration and bitterness all work against the couple's chances at a healthy, permanent reconciliation.
Though deceptively straightforward in its exploration of the causes and effects of domestic abuse, Take My Eyes benefits from the grubby verisimilitude Bollaín brings to his material, which otherwise might have lapsed into movie-of-the-week superficiality. Marull and Tosar's relationship is etched with depth, sophistication, and heartbreaking urgency, and their sex scenes radiate an intensity that's downright disconcerting in a movie fundamentally about domestic abuse. Marull's performance skillfully oscillates between the raw, almost animal-like vulnerability of her life with Tosar and the burgeoning confidence of her life at the museum, while Tosar subtly conveys how Marull becomes both the scapegoat for his frustrations and the vessel for his dreams of redemption. Take My Eyes might look and sound like an earnest message movie, but its bone-deep understanding of the tricky psychology of abuse feels effortlessly authentic.