Ojos Negros is a village in the Teruel region of Aragon and is the setting for this absorbing new film from two young female directors Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo.
Paula, an early pubescent teen immaculately portrayed by Julia Lallana, is the central character who is taken by her Aunt Elba (Anna Sabaté) to stay with her Granny (Inès Paricio) in rural Ojos Negros for the summer.
The opening close up shot of Paula with tears welling in her eyes as voices are heard just out of earshot in another room, puts the viewer in the shoes of the young woman – excluded from what’s really going on in the adult world of her family. Through close camera work, the unspoken tension continues to be evident in the car journey as Elba takes Paula to the village that is home to her but strange to her niece.
Paula’s awkwardness as she is thrown in to this new situation is clear as underlying family issues emerge more, not least through long held bitterness coming from her Gran. There is not so much a generation gap as a gulf. Lots of door closing to camera compounds Paula’s sense of isolation as she is often on the other side of these doors that hide secrets not just from the past.
As she is adjusting to this new and psychologically uncomfortable environment, she is aware of being alone in the village, only glimpsing people of her own age from a distance. While out on a bike ride, she encounters Alicia (Alba Alcaine) who is also summering in the village. Alicia has a reckless, feral streak that seems in opposition to the quiet, obedient Paula yet the girls have a bond and a special summer friendship takes place.
The film’s relatively short length and slow pace does nothing to detract from its impact as a quiet intense study of a girl coming to terms with life and some of its mysteries. Though it comes largely without soundtrack, music from Raül Refree subtly signals expectation and mood. The filmmakers’ choice of subdued colours add to make several shots look like still life paintings, with the seemingly ubiquitous presence of an unsettling fly.
Astutely written by directors Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo along with Sandra Garcia and Iván Alarcôn, Ojos Negros proves itself worthy of the two awards garnered in 2019 and being nominees for a further two in 2020.
Running time 67 mins