Blue Eyelids (Párpados azules)

Mexico (2007) Dir. Ernesto Contreras

It’s handy when things come in pairs, like socks, shoes, trousers and the like, but there are occasions when having two of something can be an inconvenience. If you are a lonely singleton like me then getting a prize intended for two people is a like a slap in the face as well as presenting a dilemma in what to do with the other half of the prize.

This is the problem that faces the protagonist of the feature debut from Mexican director Ernesto Contreras and written by brother Carlos, and results in a rash decision being made with many possible outcomes. Marina Farfán (Cecilia Suárez) is a timorous and unassuming employee at a uniform factory in Mexico City who wins the company raffle, the prize being an all expenses paid 10-day luxury beach holiday for two.

Unfortunately, Marina has no-one to take with her and the only taker is Marina’s married sister Lola (Laura de Ita) but she selfishly wants both tickets to help repair her faltering marriage. In a café one day, Marina bumps into Victor Mina (Enrique Arreola) who claims to be an old school friend but she doesn’t remember him at all, but with time running out to find a partner for the holiday, Marina takes a bold punt and invites Victor to join her.

Blue Eyelids is a parable about loneliness, the inability to communicate, and the struggle to overcome this hurdle. In the hands of Hollywood, this would have been about the actual trip and played out as a comedy of errors, but Carlos Contreras’ script has other ideas. The holiday is almost a McGuffin, not happening until late in the film, serving more as a catalyst for the two principals to find a way out of their isolation.

Neither are completely hapless or unlikeable but both clearly have resigned themselves to shying away from social interaction, a product of their single lives, making the initial meeting (reunion?) appear miraculous rather than fate. Victor is the more confident of the two, approaching Marina with little hesitation but the fact she can’t remember him casts an immediate cloud over any suitability in her life.

It is when Marina plucks up the courage to invite Victor out to dinner so she can ask him to join her on the holiday that the “getting to know each other” part of a relationship is expedited. This is the journey the film follows rather than the holiday itself, which serves it own purpose later on as suggested above, offering a glimpse into the lives of two people seemingly right for each other through circumstance only.

Everything is quiet, restrained and borderline melancholic, as the colour blue suggests but actually refers to Marina’s choice of make-up on a crucial big date. Victor talks a lot but gets little from Marina and shows even less enthusiasm (in fact, neither smile that often) yet when they both get home from a picnic, they each pleasure themselves while thinking of the other.

It sounds creepy but it is symbolic of the excitement they feel in their hearts they find difficult to outwardly express, especially without looking too eager given their long term single statuses. Another key scene that impresses this point sees Marina calling Victor at work but doesn’t know his department; the receptionist rings them all, being told they’ve never heard of Victor, before finding him, his job being in a remote part of the building working alone.     

As a “will they won’t they” scenario, this is not your usual affair, defiantly moving to its own rhythms and beats to make this pairing more beguiling than the average screen couple. They do things in a way that is so rigid and free of emotion that the lack of any kind of sexual or even romantic frisson makes them frustrating to watch for those who like some sizzle with their romance, yet this subdued and functional union has its own bewitching sweetness about it.

Running concurrently to this is a curious subplot featuring Marina’s employer, elderly bird lover Lulita (Ana Ofelia Murguía), whose infrequent appearances initially fool us into thinking that maybe she is the older version of Marina and this is either a flashback or a dream. It is a sort of whimsical parallel which Ernesto Contreras manages to successfully bring together in the end but the symbolism isn’t always as clear until this point.

Made in 2007, there is a distinct lack of modernity – mobile phones, flat screen TVs, laptops, etc – which extends to the fashions and general aesthetic, placing the story in a nebulous time frame to implying it could happen to anyone at anytime. The colour palette is largely muted while the apartments of Marina and Victor are sparse and eerily silent.

The chemistry between Cecilia Suárez and Enrique Arreola is so crucial to the film’s success and for two people unable to recognise their own emotions let alone another’s they do captivate the viewer into their decidedly awkward, obtuse ending aside. Arreola plays Victor with more of an edge since he is the de facto albeit hesitant instigator, quietly overshadowed by Suárez’s achingly fragile and beguiling portrayal of Marina.

As alluded to above, it is the final act that throws up some issues by offering something approximating a happy ending that, in keeping with the film’s overall passive tone, involves some bemusing decisions that aren’t fully reconciled but presumably makes sense to our star crossed lovers. It’s a rare instance where the audience isn’t privy to what the couple are thinking which is a little frustrating but part of their appeal.

Where Blue Eyelids succeeds is in not portraying loneliness and social awkwardness as a depressing and pitiful handicap, instead offering hope to the least of us while making it relatable to couples with busier lives. Likely to be too arcane for mainstream audiences, its quiet charm and humane approach to its subject seeps through every frame.