Directed by George Leontakianakos
With New Eyes is a short film that explores two kinds of blindness: physical and emotional.
The director (George Leontakianakos) based this film on Cathedral (1983), a short story by an American writer Raymond Carver. With New Eyes and Cathedral share similar story lines, but the movie is also addressing current issues in Greece and Europe in general, such as migrant crisis and the corona virus pandemic.
Another literary influence was the children’s book The Little Prince. There’s a famous quote from this book in the opening credits: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. To an extent, this line simplifies and also complicates things. It’s agreeable that only with the pure “moral compass” can we see beyond what’s wrong. But do we all use the same glasses to observe the world around us? Likely not. Meaning, while many of us believe we have the “heart” to observe and conclude, the “essential” differs between people.
Although this might sound confusing, it’s a striking topic the film decides to explore and as such, does perfectly.
The main character in the movie, Pavlos, is a great example of a single man in his 40s who hasn’t been lucky in terms of marriage and social life. Despite the fact that he’s an Airbnb host, Pavlos isn’t very friendly. He distrusts foreigners and he’s particularly bitter about immigrants in Athens. When he greets his new Airbnb tenant Fotis who happens to be blind, it becomes obvious that Pavlos holds a grudge not only towards foreigners but towards people with disabilities too.
Fotis is, on the other hand, a gentle and wholesome person and he almost immediately recognizes the emotional disability of his host. He gives insightful tips to Pavlos as they spend the evening together, and he tries to explain what it really feels like to be blind because Pavlos assumes that blindness is an ultimate (physical) disability. This culminates in Fotis asking Pavlos to draw a cathedral together. It is a bizarre request since Fotis can’t see the drawing but Pavlos accepts the challenge nonetheless.
While the two of them draw together and Fotis displays a child-like joy caused by the mere act of holding a pencil, Pavlos starts to realize that his heart has been frozen and blind for a very long time. He finally starts to ‘’see’’ more subtle emotions that he’s been routinely pushing away and ignoring in his daily life.
The use of music and sound effects is very sparse but in a productive way. Meaning, suggestive instrumental sequences appear only to support the emotional impact of dialogues. If audio cues and music were thrown left and right in the movie, the audio would lose the impact. It would kill the purpose of the music in this movie. Instead, by taking the “skimpy” approach, everything sounds adequate and well-placed. Almost subconsciously, the music bumps the viewer over their head just to say: “hey, pay close attention, this is important and you definitely don’t want to miss it.”
Visually speaking, With New Eyes is rather impeccable. The close-ups of Pavlos and his face are unsettling; we can clearly feel the main character’s unfriendly disposition. Even better, we can see as the change takes place after meeting Fotis. It’s fair to go to the extent of saying that the audience can imagine Pavlos getting a new pair of eyes.
Everything in Pavlos’ apartment looks polished, gray, and lifeless, just like his personality. On the other hand, close-ups of Fotis feel warm and reassuring, almost patently. From time to time, it feels as if they are in completely different rooms, even worlds. Although the story is the king of any movie, it’s these small touches that make the difference between a great and an average movie. Yes, you need a great story. But they are all around us. So it’s the small things that prove the filmmaker’s passion and love for the movie.
Sudden camera movements and changes in vantage point depict the dynamics of conversations between the protagonists very well. Each scene feels intimate, honest, and un-fabricated. Same as the movie’s message and story.
To keep it short. With New Eyes is a great movie that will grab anyone’s attention. And even if you’re a bit skeptical, it’s likely that the movie will gently force you to look at it with a new pair of eyes.