The Invisible Eye (La mirada invisible) (Director: Diego Lerman): Based on the novel Moral Sciences by Martín Kohan, The Invisible Eye attempts to link Argentina’s crumbling dictatorship with the social order inside an elite private school during the autumn of 1982. Maria Teresa (Julieta Zylberberg) is a young teaching assistant who seems to enjoy the small amount of power she has, imposing order and discipline on students just a few years younger than her. She’s also fascinated by her supervisor Mr. Biasutto, a man who, it’s implied, has received this posting as a reward for unspecified services in the military coup that brought the generals to power in 1976.
In a performance with hardly any sustained stretches of dialogue, Zylberberg brings an iciness to her role while also showing her youthful insecurity. And Lerman is successful in creating an atmosphere of quiet terror in the school. Perhaps too successful. The film itself feels airless, joyless and oppressive. We see Maria Teresa either at school or at home, where she lives in cramped quarters with her mother and grandmother. In a rare social excursion, she seems isolated from her work colleagues and cool to the advances of a male teacher. But she lets Biasutto flirt with her and take her out for coffee. And then she develops an obsession with a male student, although her only way of relating to him is either as an authority figure, or more disturbingly, as a voyeur.
With Biasutto’s blessing, she begins spying on students, ostensibly to root out “subversive” behaviour like smoking, but her own sexual repression leads her to spend long hours crouched in a toilet stall in the boys’ bathroom. Here the film and character are reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (review), but the political allegory never lets us get to know Maria Teresa quite as well as the woman Isabelle Huppert portrays. We only know that she’s unable to relate to anyone as an equal. Either she dominates or is dominated, and by the end, it leads to violence and tragedy. Unfortunately, the political message is so heavy-handed that events within the school have to be taking place at the same time as parallel events are taking place in the streets just outside, which weakens the film. But Zylberberg’s performance is always interesting to watch, especially as someone who seems to be profiting from an authoritarian system. It makes one wonder what happens to all of these minor cogs when dictators inevitably fall.