Staring at Strangers [No mires a las ojos] — Spanish Film Festival 2023

Review by John P. Harvey.

Being sacked after twenty years of loyal service to his company leads Damián (Paco León) to explode violently, after which he runs down the street and hides in a closet just before it’s delivered to the home of Lucia (Leonor Watling), Fede (Alex Brendemühl), and their daughter Maria (María Romanillos), with Damián still inside it.

When his first opportunity to sneak unseen out of the house, Damián almost does, but something stops him, and he returns to sleep under the master bed and, using the wardrobe as cover, creates and gradually outfits a hiding spot under the family’s collective noses.

The wardrobe has special significance to Lucia, who comes to believe that the presence she feels is that of a ghost.

The film verges into surrealism when it becomes apparent that we’re not supposed to be sure what is real and what is not, and what Damián’s forays of the imagination represent: madness, sanity, speculation, or something else.  And it enters into something deeper and darker when Damián begins acting to help the family along.

The unfolding of Staring at Strangers uses Damián’s quietly intense on-screen presence well to create an interesting exploration of motive and psyche, and certainly the film will leave its viewers contemplating and arguing the significance of both at various points.  Whether these ambiguities arise naturally or merely reflect a directorial wish to create uncertainty is just one such uncertainty.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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