Reviews - Close My Eyes

The New Republic, Feb 24, 1992

Close My Eyes. (movie reviews) Kauffmann, Stanley.

Some sexual subjects are problematic, not because of puritanism but because of audience incompetence. One of these is incest. After al the liberal bravery has been invoked-any subject is usable, incest is only a matter of cultural custom, and so on-the fact of audience bewilderment remains. What are we supposed to be feeling about the entwined incestuous pair? Understanding? Forbearance? joy at the film's courage? Secret gratification of our own (alleged) secret incestuous desires? Many of us, I'd guess, don't know what such a film expects of us and are incompetent to deal with it.

Brother-sister incest is the subject of Close My Eyes (Castle Hill), a topic with a considerable history. For instance, Wagner's Siegmund and Sieglinde, brother and sister, beget a new heroic race; on the other hand, that was in a different age. When Mann satirized the Wagnerian idea in The Blood of the Walsungs with a twentieth-century pair, storms erupted. In Brotherly Love (1969), which has one of Peter O'Toole's best performances, the tone is tragic because the brother (O'Toole) is driven mad by a love that can never be consummated. Not the case in this new film.

Close My Eyes was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, a well-known British playwright-very well written, too, as far as the dialogue alone is concerned, and acutely directed. Poliakoff apparently wanted to create something of the tacit tension that Joseph Losey got in The Servant and Accident, and, helped by the subtle lighting of Witold Stok, he often succeeds.

But what are we to do with the story? A young architect, played by Clive Owen, and his sister, Saskia Reeves, were separated for much of their lives because their parents had divorced. Now they get to know and become fond of each other: after she is married-to Alan Rickman, a creamily successful businessman-the sibling pair suddenly explode into a wild sexual affair. Soon after, the sister tries to break it off; the brother is insistent and virtually forces her to continue. The husband suspects that his wife is having an affair and ultimately discovers that it's with her brother.

We know we are meant to be feeling something about all this, but it's difficult to decide what that something is. Another question occurs: How will it all end? Poliakoff doesn't do much better with this second question than with the first. At the finish, when all is revealed, the brother asks, Mat's going to happen?" The husband says plaintively, "I haven't a clue,' and the three of them wander off through a field along a stream. The film's lack of closure mirrors-too accurately-our own puzzlement. What was the film for?

Owen is earnest as the brother, but not very moving. Reeves, on the other hand, is a find. She was the sophisticated one in the recent Antonia and Jane, and here she is superb-feverishly passionate, bitterly witty, anguished through all her being. Reeves is one more of those talented and trained young women whom British theater-and-film keeps producing. Rickman, whom I last saw in Truly, Madly, Deeply, hasn't yet had the chance to display much variety, but his polished characters gleam. Here, just when we begin to think that, like other English actors before him, he is a bit overdependent on precise enunciation, he gives us a glimpse under the veneer. Poliakoff's best touch in the writing of this screenplay is this suave man's confusion and hurt as his customary finesse proves inadequate to the strange situation. Rickman stabs.

The NY Times

Review/Film; If Two Sides Of a Triangle Are Siblings - By STEPHEN HOLDEN

Contemporary London, as depicted in Stephen Poliakoff's "Close My Eyes," is gripped by a feverish malaise. Construction cranes scar the skyline for as far as the eye can see, and the weather is so hot that people have begun to mutter about the end of the world. There is also grim talk about the AIDS epidemic. And when one of the characters makes a date in the sleazier part of town, his first stop is at a vending machine dispensing condoms.

In this parched, overheated atmosphere, an incestuous affair between Natalie (Saskia Reeves), a restless young woman who drifts from job to job, and her slightly younger brother Richard (Clive Owen) almost makes sense. In a world where nature seems to have slipped out of balance, it is a way of unconsciously affirming the general state of disorder.

"Close My Eyes," which opens today at the Quad Cinema, begins with a sequence of flashbacks that reveal Natalie and Richard to be smart, attractive people who have drifted for years without a guiding focus. Natalie has always flirted recklessly with her brother, and one day a lingering kiss precipitates a ravenous mutual passion.

Complicating matters is the fact that Natalie has finally settled down with someone. Her husband, Sinclair (Alan Rickman), an heir to a margarine fortune, is a garrulous businessman who lives in a magnificent riverside mansion and works, as he puts it, in "trends and analysis." Although Natalie and Richard fight against their attraction, it proves overwhelming. And in their clandestine rendezvous they tear at each other with the frenzy of wild animals. When Natalie finally decides to end the affair, Richard, who has given himself over completely to the relationship, begins to come apart, and an undercurrent of violence rises to the surface.

Mr. Poliakoff, a prolific English playwright whose dramas "Shout Across the River" and "American Days" have both had New York productions, has given his story a theatrical structure whose metaphors clunk a bit too heavily for the machinery not to seem overexposed. Yet the characters in the film's central triangle are drawn with an extraordinary depth and subtlety. Natalie, though beautiful and possessed of an aristocratic willfulness, is also shown to be socially and intellectually insecure. And in the company of the voluble Sinclair, who has an opinion about everything that crosses his line of vision, she is reduced to moody silences.

Richard is a brash, swinging bachelor with a social conscience, who as the affair begins, has taken a job with a regulatory agency that monitors the progress of a gargantuan development touted as "the new Venice." But as community-spirited as he is, he has as little success in forcing the unscrupulous developers to keep their word as he has in reining in his emotions once they have spun out of control. Richard's and Natalie's love scenes, and later their fight scenes, have a visceral energy that seems so spontaneous there are moments when one feels almost embarrassed to be caught watching.

Best of all is Mr. Rickman's Sinclair, who in a welcome departure from his usually sinister roles, gives the dilettantish husband many layers. Beneath a supercilious facade, he is as vulnerable as Richard. Indeed, one of the film's most striking qualities is its detailed observation of the ways in which two grown men of very different temperament become emotionally unstrung.

"Close My Eyes" is an unusually good-looking film. Witold Stok's photography gives the London suburbs a tropical lushness that is appropriate to the situation. And Michael Gibbs's throbbing semi-classical score helps keep the film's heated atmosphere well above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Close My Eyes" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes explicit sex and nudity. Close My Eyes

Directed and written by Stephen Poliakoff; director of photography, Witold Stok; edited by Michael Parkinson; music by Michael Gibbs; production designer, Luciana Arrighi; produced by Therese Pickard; released by Castle Hill Productions. At the Quad Cinema, 13th Street, west of Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan. Running time: 109 minutes. This film is rated R. Sinclair . . . Alan Rickman Richard . . . Clive Owen Natalie . . . Saskia Reeves Colin . . . Karl Johnson Jessica . . . Lesley Sharp Paula . . . Kate Gartside Philippa . . . Karen Knight

The Austin Chronicle

Close My Eyes
Directed By: Stephen Poliakoff
Starring: Clive Owen, Saskia Reeves, Alan Rickman
(0 min.)

Hmmmm. It's just the teensiest bit difficult to view incest sympathetically, yet that's what British playwright/director Poliakoff asks us to do. Reeves and Owen play a brother and sister who were separated when their parents divorced and so spend their teenage years apart. When they come together again their meetings are increasingly sexually charged until the unthinkable happens. Before this momentous event, Owen was a feckless young architect on the make in every way -- big building projects and young women occupying his time. But something, we don't know what, makes him change and he takes a job at an environmental watchdog agency and sleeps with his sister. For her part, Reeves goes from deep despair when one lover leaves to idyllic discontent when she marries an investment advisor played with typical savoir faire by Rickman (Die Hard, Robin Hood). In the course of their affair, Owen becomes obsessive while Reeves is manipulative then sensible -- after all, she's the one with a reasonably good marriage to a very rich man. It's the seduction scene that's most painful to watch as Reeves toys with Owen, then says “Stop me.” The whole mess teeters briefly on the edge of sanity when Owen discovers his co-worker is ill with AIDS and, at the same time, a distraught Rickman confides in Owen his fears about his wife's infidelity. Just for a moment it seems that a point about the responsibilties of love, sex and friendship, is about to be made, but as Owen careens off into self-pity and obsession, something darker happens. AIDS as the result of unprotected sex is not exactly equated with incest, but it comes dangerously close. It's not malice on Poliakoff's part; it's lack of control. And it is a lack of control that characterizes this movie. The characters spend so much of their screen time in guilty self-castigation, that it's not a pleasant experience for us. If anyone could save it, it is the riveting Rickman, but his bravest efforts come too late. “Stop me” Reeves says. We would if we could.

Kathleen Maher [1991-12-27]

From the Chicago Reader

Capsule by Jonathan Rosenbaum

A remarkably accomplished and beautiful second feature by English playwright Stephen Poliakoff (Hidden City), this lyrical drama might be described as a period film about the present. The plot concerns an incestuous affair that suddenly develops between a grown brother (Clive Owen) and sister (Saskia Reeves) who grew up with separate parents; the sister, now married to a wealthy entrepreneur (Alan Rickman), insists on ending the affair after the brother becomes hopelessly smitten with her. There's nothing prurient about Poliakoff's handling of this subject, though the movie certainly has its erotic moments. The focus is rather on how we live our lives--including the complications of sex and the chaos of real estate development, in which the brother is professionally involved: Poliakoff uses the incest theme as a pivot for an elegiac, quasi-apocalyptic, and ineffably sad reflection on life in the early 90s. (Though settings and tone are different, this film may remind one in spots of Richard Lester's underrated Petulia.) Most of the story takes place during an unusually hot English summer, and the settings are almost surreally radiant; the acting of the three leads is edgy, powerful, and wholly convincing, with Rickman a particular standout. The haunting music is by Michael Gibbs (1991).