The year is 1988, the country, Nigeria. Two young brothers lay talking, gazing into one another’s eyes as the sun streams through a window. The older brother ‘Ikenna’ telling his younger brother ‘Amadi’ that they are one. His soul reincarnated into his young brother. A shadow of control and subservience descending on the younger brother that will affect the destiny of both the boys as they grow to become men. So starts Matias Mariani’s sublime and sophisticated journey into belonging, obsession and love in ‘Shine Your Eyes’. A film that defies simple genre boundaries as it weaves through the bustling streets of Sao Paulo, its themes and imagery, leaving an indelible mark on the viewer.
Following this brief glimpse of childhood, we are taken forward in time, as Amadi (OC Ukeje) arrives in Sao Paulo. His mission, to find his older brother Ikenna; now missing for months. A man who could do no wrong in the eyes of their mother. His move to Sao Paulo aimed squarely at proving his abilities. His emails and posts back home full of his achievements as a data scientist; alongside a university professorship and beautiful home. However, as Amadi digs into the stories that Ikenna shared, all is not as it once seemed. With Amadi caught in his brother’s unresolved mystery. While also slowly falling in love with the culture, art and freedom Sao Paulo offers. His life inextricably linked to his brother, while in turn finally free to create an individual destiny.
The journey that ensues is both nuanced and melodic, challenging the viewer to look beyond simple answers and ideas. The streets of Sao Paulo becoming a character, as the buildings and locations find life in the hands of Leonardo Bittencourt’s cinematography. The 4.3 aspect ratio echoing the entrapment and family duty that follows Amadi as the city slowly unpicks the chains that held him locked in confinement. His awakening, dovetailing with the freedom, art and creativity of a city built on immigrants, colour and culture.
However, for all its visual prowess and stunning artistry, the real beauty of Shine Your Eyes sits firmly within the concepts of freedom versus control and prophecy versus fortuity. The Journey of one brother and the mystery of the other tied to a city of possibilities, hidden barriers and opportunity. The result never seeking to offer simplistic answers, but in turn setting one spirit free, while imprisoning the other.
Shine Your Eyes, is both an assured and fascinating fiction debut from Mariani. Which alongside a Netflix release should gain a broad audience. And while it may prove too slow for some, this is an expertly crafted gem that glows with both originality and artistic flair. And I for one cant wait to see what Mariani delivers next.
Director: Matias Mariani