Eugenio Mira’s second feature is a strange but rare and beautiful bird. A blend of espionage thriller, gothic romance, and fantasy, the title refers to a neurological disorder in which the brain cannot properly interpret visual and aural stimuli, and thereby cannot tell faces and voices apart. Set in late 19th century Barcelona, the victim of this illness is Joana, the daughter of Artur Prats, a lens maker whose creation of the first telescopic rifle scope inadvertently leads to his daughter’s predicament. When he vows never to reveal the secret lens formula, other industrialists concoct a plan to trick Joana into giving it away. They force Vicent, a former servant who under Joana’s condition can be mistaken for her fiancé Carles, into wooing it out of her.
Screenwriter Antonio Trashorras (The Devil’s Backbone) and Mira weave the varying generic elements together seamlessly. The film is gorgeous to look at, with an amazing attention to detail in the story and the aesthetics. And at first, it might seem almost too simply, a love triangle. But Mira makes several tiny cuts in the fabric of the story to allow the viewer to look beneath the surface. The cinematic interpretation of Joana’s condition is terrifying; if I have a criticism of the film, it is that I wish there was more of Joana’s perspective, as it was cleverly enacted. The art direction and cinematography make the film a sumptuous feast for the eyes. But one of the cuts Mira makes gives the viewer the impression that they themselves have agnosia; stripping the scenes of Joana’s isolation of all their color, the viewer is forced to understand her perspective: with no recognizable faces or voices, she can only attempt to interpret the words, and the meaning behind them.
The viewer, of course, has more information than Joana, but is caught up attempting to understand her means of interpretation. Her fiancé Carles might love her, but he is unable to express it, and he remains as distant to as she is to him. Vicent is, and he slowly unlocks her heart by finding the right words. Eduardo Noriega’s performance as Carles especially is one of quiet desperation; it seems that he has always loved Joana, but is too bound by societal convention and his own needs. With a haunting soundtrack composed by the director, Mira makes what in other hands might have been a telenovela into something much darker and richer: a clever mix of the gothic and the fantastic, with love and spies, crafted together in a mesmerizing pattern.