Cast: Eduardo Noriega, Penelope Cruz, Chete Lera, Najwa Nimri
SUMMARY: Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) wakes up to the sound of a woman telling him to open his eyes. He gets ready for the day, but after leaving his house, finds that the entire city is deserted. He wakes up once again, to the same female voice, but this time that woman is in bed with him; before getting ready, he tells the woman, Nuria (Najwa Nimri) not to record any more messages on his alarm. Cesar is then shown to be in a psychiatric hospital in Madrid, where he wears a mask over his face and only talks to his psychiatrist Antonio (Chete Lera). In an attempt to learn more about him, Antonio asks Cesar to talk about the events leading up to the murder he committed; Cesar flashes back to an earlier time. Cesar has been extremely blessed: he was born with terrific good looks and inherited a small fortune when his parents died when he was a young adult. As a result, he does not have to work outside of the occasional meeting with his business partners. Cesar is somewhat notorious for never staying with one woman very long, but his latest fling, Nuria, is not happy with that arrangement. Cesar tries to cut ties with her, and does not invite her to his upcoming birthday party. Cesar’s best friend, Pelayo, comes to the party with a fellow student named Sofia (Penelope Cruz). Cesar is immediately attracted to her, but suddenly sees Nuria in the crowd. He uses Sofia as an escape, taking her back to her apartment and then sleeping on her couch. When he leaves in the morning, Nuria is waiting outside and offers him a ride and sex. Cesar initially turns her down, but eventually agrees and gets into her car. However, on the way to her apartment, Nuria purposely runs the car off the road and into a wall. She dies in the wreck, and Cesar incurs terrible face injuries and is in a coma for three weeks. Despite numerous surgeries, the doctors are unable to repair his face, so Cesar starts wearing a mask at all times. He finally talks to Sofia again, and even meets her and Pelayo at a club, but Sofia cannot handle things and leaves early.
Cesar wanders around drunkenly until he falls asleep in the street. He is woken up by Sofia, who tells him that she loves him; things get even better when he learns that the doctors have found a procedure to restore his face. The surgery is successful, and Cesar resumes the life he was leading before the accident. However, on a number of occasions he looks into the mirror and sees his disfigured face. One night, Cesar gets out of the bed he is sharing with Sofia; when he returns, it is Nuria in his bed. He calls the police, but they claim that Nuria’s name actually is Sofia. Pelayo also claims that Nuria is the woman Cesar has been with all along, and even has pictures to prove it. Cesar breaks into Sofia’s apartment and is knocked out by Nuria (who thinks he’s a burglar), but when she returns with a glass of water, it’s Sofia. Cesar stays at her apartment that night, but in the middle of the night she again abruptly changes into Nuria. This time, Cesar smothers her with a pillow, leading to his arrest and incarceration in the psychiatric prison. Through working with Antonio, Cesar is able to recover bits and pieces of memories that may explain what is happening to him. These memories eventually lead him — accompanied by the skeptical Antonio — to a company called Life Extension, which offers cryogenic services. By pretending to be a potential client, Cesar learns that in addition to cryogenically freezing clients for future resuscitation (when that technology becomes available), Life Extension offers a service in which the client is put into an extremely lifelike dream. Unlike resuscitation, which brings the person back to life when the technology becomes available (perhaps many years after their death), the dream allows people to continue living in their original time period. Essentially, the dream erases the memories surrounding their death and allows the person to keep on living as though nothing happened to them. Cesar learns that this is what is happening to him: he is inside one of these dreams. After falling asleep in the street, Cesar wasn’t really awakened by Sofia; she never came back, and he became a reclues. When he learned about Life Extension, he signed up for the dream option, then killed himself. Rather than 1997, the year is really 2145. The strange occurences, like seeing his disfigured face and Nuria, are products of Cesar’s fears, which influence his dream. The head of Life Extension offers Cesar two options: his dream can be reset, allowing him to live his ideal existence without disfigurement or Nuria, or he can be woken up and live in 2145. Though Antonio tries to convince him that everything is real, Cesar has seen enough evidence to the contrary. In order to wake himself from his dream, he leaps from the top of a building. The film ends with a woman’s voice telling Cesar to open his eyes.
MY TAKE: Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Vanilla Sky, the Tom Cruise movie, is a remake of this Spanish-language film. Penelope Cruz actually plays the same role in both movies, so she probably made a boatload of money for doing the same thing twice, albeit in different languages. It pays to be bilingual. I was actually convinced for a while that this was some Beauty-and-the-Beast type of thing, since Cesar was kind of full of himself before the accident. Think about it: he’s rather conceited, moves from woman to woman, and isn’t very nice to Nuria (who is, admittedly, a little scary). If she’s in the witch/enchantress role, it would play into the story for her to be the cause of his disfigurement. He’s totally disgusted with his looks, which still plays into the conceit thing; his chore will be convincing Sofia that there is more to him than looks. This wasn’t what happened at all, but it made a lot of sense for probably half of the movie. Then the weird things started happening. I became suspicious about the time that the magic surgery restored his face without a flaw. There is just no way to do that, not without a little scarring, or something being just a little off. Then he kept insisting that he’d been certain places, or done things before. In addition, he refuses to take off the mask for Antonio — if his face was restored, why would he be wearing the mask? When Sofia started turning into Nuria, I thought maybe he really was crazy, that the crash screwed up more than just his face. The real ending was a little hard for me to follow, mainly because I didn’t really understand why the weird things kept happening. I guess it’s because Cesar’s brain kept making them happen, because of his fears, so maybe it’s like a guilty conscience thing? However, if this is true, why does the director offer to reset the dream, or let Cesar wake up (for free)? To me, that action suggested that it was somehow Life Extension’s fault that crazy Nuria kept popping up. I was also royally pissed that I did not get to find out if he really was living in a dream, and woke up in 2145, or if he just went splat on the concrete. The voice he heard could have just been the medics scraping him off the ground, or something to mess with our heads. I WANT TO KNOW!
RATING: Sometimes hard to follow, but pretty good.