London Spanish Film Festival, Spring Weekend: Agnosia, Dir. Eugenio Mira (2011)

Bàrbara Goenaga as the vulnerable and beautiful Joana who suffers from the rare condition of agnosia, leaving her virtually blind, and Eduardo Noriega as her dutiful and protective fiancé Carles.

Rating: 5/10

Directed by Eugenio Mira and co-written by The Devil’s Backbone writer Antonio Trashorras, this period gothic romance/thriller is an intriguing genre-defying prospect . Set in Spain in the early 1900s, it tells the story of  Joana Prats (Bàrbara Goenaga) a woman suffering from a rare condition, agnosia, which impairs her sensory input, leaving her severely visually impaired (which we see frequently through manipulated and distorted point of view shots).

Her father Artur (Sergi Mateu) is a lens-maker who early on in the film creates a magnifying lens which is powerfully accurate when used in rifles. However he decides to abandon it when he realises just how dangerous it’s use is. This leads to him being ruthlessly pursued by another rival lens maker, the determined Prevert (Martina Gedeck of The Lives Of Others and Baader-Meinhof Complex fame) who will do anything to get the formula for the lucrative lens. Wherein comes the espionage thriller element of the film, but what of the gothic romance part? Well, after Artur dies Joana is the vulnerable vehicle through which Prevert decides to get the formula and she uses Vicent (Félix Gómez ) (as well as other devices, but I won’t reveal them here), a doppelganger to Joana’s fiancé Carles (Eduardo Noriega) to infiltrate Joana’s fortress-like home.

The result is that Joana gradually falls in love with Vicent , who is more passionate and romantic than Carles who finds it difficult to be passionate with the disabled Joana, and instead has sex with prostitutes who look like Joana. A large part of the film is then taken up with a fairly interesting   thematic play on identities and the easy confusion of fantasy with reality.

The film is filled with decor and grand shots that heighten the murky gothic atmosphere, the period detail particularly opulent and theatrical. There are many memorable scenes such as when Vicent brings to Joana-cocooned in a room swathed in black to help her condition-a lantern  which recreates a starry sky (the only thing she can see clearly). Or in the grand tragic Visconti-style ending  that takes place on suitably gothic cathedral steps amidst snow falling. Goenaga, meanwhile, steals the show with her believable portrayal of Joana’s fragility and emerging  sexual desires.

But while the film is engaging in these aspects, it is not enough to make it completely satisfying.  The different plot-lines don’t always work; the elaborate machinations for a lens seems far-fetched and the ending while visually beautiful is rather too melodramatic. Supporting characters such as Prevert also seem two-dimensional and only there to keep the plot going. But you can’t fault Mira for trying, even if he does try too hard.

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