August 1, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Matias Mariani
English, Portuguese, Igbo, Hungarian and Chinese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Brazil and briefly in Nigeria, the drama “Shine You Eyes” has a predominantly African cast (and some Brazilians and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A Nigerian man travels to Brazil to find his missing older brother, and he discovers some unsettling clues about his brother’s disappearance while experiencing culture shock and language barriers in Brazil.
Culture Audience: “Shine Your Eyes” will appeal primarily to people who like mysteries and psychological dramas with international characters.
On the surface, “Shine Your Eyes” could be seen as an intriguing drama about a man looking for his missing brother. But beneath the surface are richly layered themes about sibling rivalry and family responsibilities, as well lines that can be blurred between being superstitious, being scientifically brilliant and being mentally ill. Directed by Matias Mariani, “Shine Your Eyes” moves along at a mostly languid pace that can be disarming in keeping people guessing on where the story is going, because what happens in the last 20 minutes of the film is like a jolt meant to shake up any predictable notion of how this movie will end.
The beginning of the movie opens in Nsukka, Nigeria, in 1988. Two brothers (played by Eresto Lusala and Ivo Daniel Nduaya Madu), who are close to each other in age (about 6 or 7 years old) are in a bedroom together. One brother talks about what it would be like if his own mouth was where his mind should be, and he commands his brother to imagine it. “This is the face of your Chi,” he tells his brother.
The movie then fast-forwards to São Paulo, Brazil, in 2019. A Nigerian musician named Amadi Igbomaeze (played by OC Ukeje) has just arrived in the city. Amadi goes to the Galeria Presidente shopping mall, where he his greeted by his uncle Chefe Ogboh (played by Ike Barry), who has a beauty supply store/salon in the mall.
Amadi isn’t in Brazil for a just a casual family visit. He’s on a mission to find his older brother Ikenna (played by Chukwudi Iwuji), who has disappeared. Ikenna has a fiancée in Nigeria who hasn’t heard from Ikenna for more than a year. Ikenna has seemed to have vanished into thin air, so Amadi is determined to find out what happened.
Throughout the movie, Amadi plays voice mail messages from his mother, who is never seen in the movie. However, the messages make it clear that Ikenna is considered the “favorite” child and the “star” of the family. It seems that Amadi has always felt as if he’s been in the shadow of his older brother, which brings some complications to the family dynamics and Amadi’s own emotions, since Amadi is now taken on an “alpha male” role of trying to find Ikenna.
Most of “Shine Your Eyes” follows Amadi’s deliberate step-by-step investigation, which leads to unexpected twists and turns . He’s worried, but not frantic. And while Amadi searches for his brother in various parts of São Paulo, he experiences some culture shock and language barriers (he speaks English, but not Portuguese) that could hinder his investigation.
Based on the last email communication that Ikenna sent to Amadi, Ikenna has recently started a new job as head professor of qualitative statistics at Covenant University in São Paulo. Amadi goes to the university website and sees Ikenna’s name, photo and title listed, along with other faculty members, such as the university’s provost and faculty overseer Miro Kuzko (played by Paulo André). But when Amadi goes to the address that Ikenna gave as his work address, Amadi finds out that it’s not a university but a public planning office.
The biggest clues to Ikenna’s disappearance are on the laptop computer that Ikenna left behind for repairs at a public computer cafe. Amadi happened to be using the same cafe when he noticed the computer behind the clerk’s counter, in a stack of other computers waiting to be repaired. Ikenna’s laptop computer has unique and distinctive stickers on it.
The clerk tells Amadi that the person who owned the computer left it there for repairs and never picked it up, so Amadi pays for the repairs and begins looking at everything he can on the computer. Somehow, Amadi has figured out the password to the computer, and he finds a treasure trove of email, photos and videos that lead him down various paths in the story. Amadi discovers that Ikenna has been leading a secret double life in Brazil, including fabricating stories about his background and using the alias Charlie.
Amadi also finds out that Ikenna had been dating one of the beauty salon employees named Emilia Nascimento (played by Indira Nascimento), who believes that Ikenna deliberately left and doesn’t want to be found. Because she thinks that Ikenna abandoned her and because Amadi looks a lot like his brother and has sibling rivalry issues with him, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what will happen with Amadi and Emilia.
“Shine Your Eyes” takes its time to uncover the different layers to the story, which shows different slices of life in Nigerian Igbo culture and Brazilian culture. “Shine Your Eyes” screenplay is credited to six people (director/producer Mariani, Chika Anadu, Francine Barbosa, Júlia Murat, Maíra Bühler and Roberto Winter), but it doesn’t appear to have suffered from “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. The middle of the film drags a bit, but the movie has some interesting subtexts that explore the contrasts of superstition and science, and how mental health might play a role in how people perceive themselves and others.
All of the actors in the cast do a perfectly fine job with their roles. Leonardo Bittencourt’s striking cinematography puts a lot of emphasis on high-rise buildings or tall heights in São Paulo. These camera angles give viewers a sense of Amadi’s culture shock of being in a big city like São Paulo that has numerous skyscrapers. Ultimately, the greatest strength of “Shine Your Eyes” is in how the movie goes beyond a typical “missing person” story and effectively conveys that people who try to run away from their families are often trying to run away from themselves.
Netflix premiered “Shine Your Eyes” on July 29, 2020.