In Matias Mariani’s Shine Your Eyes we find a stranger in a strange land as he searches for his family’s prodigal son. It is in part a mystery to be unraveled, but it is also a journey of self-discovery and affirmation.
Amadi, a Nigerian musician, has come to São Paulo, Brazil, to search for his older brother Ikenna, who has stopped communicating with his family back home. Ikenna has told them he is a professor of statistics at a university, but Amadi soon discovers this is not the case. Bit by bit Amadi uncovers pieces of his brother’s life—a computer, a CD, a phone. Usually the comment of those who have these things is “He didn’t give it to me; he left it here.” Almost as though they are clues left for his brother. Each new piece creates a stranger picture of Ikenna. It involves horse racing, music, video games all moving in harmony (at least in Ikenna’s mind). Ikenna may be a brilliant mathematician unlocking the secrets of the universe, or he may be delusional and obsessing about being in control of the simulation of life.
A part of the difficulty Amadi faces is one of languages. He does well in his native Igbo and in English, but struggles with Portuguese. He is unfamiliar with the city, but feels somewhat at home with the Nigerian expat community. But we also discover that many other people have a sense of solitude and alienation. One of Ikenna’s friends who befriends Amadi in his search came to the country from Hungary. His father never let him learn Hungarian, so that he’d feel a part of Brazilian culture. But now his father has dementia and has forgotten Portuguese, so the father and son can no longer talk. When Amadi becomes romantically involved with Ikenna’s former lover, they can’t really speak to each other, but they “enjoy each other’s company”. That sense of alienation, even in the most intimate relationships permeates the story.
At a more personal level, there is a certain bittersweet quality to Amadi’s search. Of course, he like others in his family are concerned about the missing Ikenna. But the impetus for his journey to Brazil is that their mother wants the elder son to return not just because as the eldest he should be head of the family, but because he is the child she loves more than any of the others. It is as if the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal had sent the son who stayed at home off to the distant land to bring home his brother, telling the son who stayed that he just wasn’t good enough. That pain is constantly with Amadi in his search.
The film is a poignant portrait of a man who in searching for his brother, may discover that what he really needs to find is the strength and love that he has within himself.
Shine Your Eyes is available on Netflix.
Photos courtesy of Netflix.