Death Will Come and Shall Have Your Eyes review – a strangely comforting end

Chilean film-maker José Luis Torres Leiva’s new drama is a thoughtful treatment of terminal illness. It gets under the skin and into the thoughts of two women: a couple, and one of them is dying of cancer. Torres Leiva wrote the script after losing three friends to the illness. His film is anti-sentimental, a tough watch, as they say; the kind that can leave you feeling a little fragile. But it’s sensitive, too, and beautifully acted.

Ana (Amparo Noguera) and María (Julieta Figueroa) are in their 40s. The film opens with the two of them in a car. María in the passenger seat gently instructs driver Ana to close her eyes, and for a tense moment Ana drives blind, scared. Afterwards, we discover that María has terminal cancer. What was she doing in that moment in the car? Giving Ana a glimmer of her own terror of the darkness?

We watch as the women pack up their apartment in the city and move to a cabin in the forest, where María has chosen to die. Not much is said; the dialogue would probably fit on to a dozen or so typed pages. Torres Leiva is more interested in the emotional weather, the way the two women gaze at each other, or a hand resting on a shoulder. In the bath, María loses her temper with Ana for treating her like a child, and rages at her illness.

Two sizable digressions in the middle spoil the film a little. One dramatises a strange fairytale María tells about a naked feral girl living alone in the forest; the other is a family story about her uncle. Both felt a bit generically arthouse, slightly awkward experiments. Overall, it’s a tough watch but in its way gently reassuring. As it can be in life, watching people living with death is strangely comforting – it makes it feel doable somehow.

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