Ojos que no ven is doubtless Francisco Lombardi’s most ambitious film to date, but it is also perhaps his least successful. With its numerous intersecting stories, the movie is reminiscent of Altman’s Short Cuts or Soderbergh’s Traffic (and expands upon Lombardi’s own Caídos del cielo), but ultimately the film gets away from the director, becoming more of a sprawling mess than an interwoven tapestry.
The background for all the stories told is the crisis that engulfed Peru in late 2000, when a video emerged showing President Alberto Fujimori’s Chief of Security and all-round right-hand man and eminence grise, Vladimior Montesinos, apparently bribing an opposition congressman to switch allegiance to the President’s camp. It soon became clear that this was far from an isolated case, and that Montesinos had systematically bribed not only congressmen and women, but also surpreme court justices and media moguls. What’s more, he had also secretly videoed all these exchanges. As hundreds of these so-called vladivideos came to light, to be played nightly on the television news, the murky world of official corruption became a spectacle, a sort of soap opera that glued Peruvians to their television screens. Nobody knew who would be implicated next.
So what links the various characters and scenes in Ojos que no ven are the ever-present TV sets, transmitting bit by bit the slow agony of the developing scandal as the extent of the corruption becomes apparent, Montesinos flees the country, Fujimori also runs for cover, and a new President is sworn in.
The other common denominator is the crumbling public hospital through which most of the characters pass at one point or another, as though to remind them of both the stubborn persistence and the dilapidation of another vision of the state, as a fount of common security and benefit for all.
Lombardi’s hardly afraid of a metaphor. One of the stories depicted involves a news anchorman whose visit to the hospital is prompted by the appearance and rapid spread of a mole that stubbornly remains visible however much his make-up assistant (who, in another plot, is the girlfriend of one of Montesinos’s hired thugs) applies layers of concealer. It turns out that the mole is a fast-spreading melanoma: a cancer that, like the corruption breaking to the surface of the national polity, threatens more than simply the finely-honed visage of free-market yuppie success.
But what’s odd, then, is why the film should be entitled “Ojos que no ven” or “Unseeing eyes.” For what it depicts is a regime of utmost visibility, in which images speak for themselves and quickly bring down the entire house of cards that constitute the Fujimori-Montesinos edifice. And if there were unseeing eyes before the scandal erupted, then it was mostly for the rather banal reason that everything remained hidden. Indeed, the more interesting aspect of the vladivideos is that suddenly ordinary Peruvians saw the world as Montesinos saw it: a landscape of the utmost transparency, in which everything had to be on view, recorded to be replayed if necessary at a later date. For a few brief months, at least, a central node of the surveillance society was itself exposed to the penetrating glare of the media and public view.
But apart from one or two touches–the television presenter’s mole, but also a forensic archaeologist bringing the skulls of death squad victims to the surface, for instance–the question of visibility and the role of the camera itself is barely thematized in Lombardi’s movie. He’s rather missing a trick here, as there should surely have been some self-reflexivity about the similarity between Montesinos’s perspective and that of the film’s own camera eye that glides smoothly between the distinct stories that compose the film’s multiple plots, making connections where before there were none, or none visible.
After all, and beyond the soap-opera segments that constitute far too much of this film (two old men arguing politics in neighbouring hospital beds; a nerdy young clerk with film-fuelled fantasies that he can play the suave leading man for his landlady’s bratty daughter), isn’t the real point that Montesinos proved himself the greatest director that Peru has yet seen, putting the likes of Lombardi himself in the shade. If there were any eyes that didn’t see, they belonged to this socially committed film-maker, who had given himself the task of subjecting society to the x-ray vision of the camera lens, only to be upstaged by the neoliberal state itself.
YouTube Link: “Eye Spy – Peru”, a nice little documentary about the fall of Fujimori and Peru’s regime of visibility.