By: Urbi Khan
Letter Grade: B
While piloting his robotic spider from the United States, a hexapod operator and pipeline guardian (Joe Cole) becomes fascinated by a Middle Eastern woman (Lina El –Arabi, it’s the latest from the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Kim Nguyen. – TIFF description
We have all come to know that Big Brother may always be watching. However, he observes us for our own good, apparently. This is the proposition that the Quebec filmmaker, Kim Nguyen sets for his latest film, Eye on Juliet.
The film, starring Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders, Green Room) and Lina El-Arabi, explores a drone-assisted love story that breaks down cultural barricades and long distances. Eye on Juliet is set in an utopian world where technology has the ability to influence love.
This well-meaning, romantic story that circumstantially brings together two people together is a disappointment. Mainly because the so-called 'roundness' of the geopolitical landscape in this tale is extremely flat as Gordon (Cole), the hexapod operator is shown to be in suburban Detroit whereas Ayusha (El-Arabi) is shown to be only located in a town in the North African desert, her exact location is not identified.
The representation of the two characters’ location is uneven. Compared to Nguyen’s Oscar-nominated film, War Witch (2012), this film lacks representation of the diverse nature of Africa as it is very generalized in this film.
Eye on Juliet opens with a landscape seen in night-vision accompanied by low-frequency music. This sets the mood for the film that you are going off into an unknown world.
We first find Gordon, a handsome all-American man, in a night-club, where he is in the middle of a bad break up. On the verge of a mental breakdown, Gordon gets thrown out of the club. He goes home, sits in a corner and contemplates in a disheveled and empty room. We are introduced into the world of a character who is emotionally distraught and displaced. This is not unknown territory for anyone; it’s a cliché. The only point of solace in Gordon’s life is when he stumbles upon Ayusha in the North African desert through his hexapod, where he is guarding oil pipelines for the company he is working for.
Ayusha’s storyline presents an inventively stylized Romeo-Juliet melodrama as she meets in secret with her boyfriend near the pipelines. Gordon interjects himself into her life as he has lost his own love. The Juliet-like character of Ayusha is arranged to be married to an older man by her parents; Gordon tries to resolve this through his hexapod all the way from the United States.
Despite all the stereotypical story material about a ‘third-world’ damsel-in-distress, who is essentially rescued by a white, male saviour, this film does have its enduring qualities.
When Gordon comes into contact with Ayusha for the first time, he speaks Arabic in a computerized, pre-set voice which is programmed to be “soothing” in sound. I find this to be reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s tech love story Her (2013), as human and a robot interact in a humanly, empathetic way.
Eye on Juliet could easily have been political as it centres around an white, American male and an African-Muslim female, but it is not and that is uplifting for the audience. However, it seems that this story is only an attempt at romance and is not fully realized as Gordon only helps Ayusha because he is lovelorn himself.
Another enduring quality of the film is its ability to bring in some elements of humour to an otherwise dramatic plot. The film includes a blind, old man who appears only once. He apparently “sees” the world with wisdom and tells Gordon - through the hexapod - the true nature of love. Understandably, this is a Shakespearean allusion, alluding to the film’s title.
When Gordon questions the self-proclaimed expert on life, how you can know when you really love a woman the old man replies, “First you must embrace her, close. Close enough that you can smell her neck, smell her scent. And if you become engulfed by it - kiss her! Then the talking will ensue between you two. And if you didn’t like kissing her, than all talk ceases. After that, you must simply walk away.”
To this advice, Gordon chuckles.
Eye on Juliet is well-produced. The desert terrain and soundtrack creates an atmospheric experience as the sounds make it an impressive journey for the audience. When viewing this film, the audience can hear every trickle of water, the winds of the desert and see in vivid colour the environment that surrounds the characters.
Essentially, one leaves with the sense that this film is about a lovelorn, privileged saviour who is detached from his environment, until he finds an exotic cause to care about. The damsel-in-distress, Ayusha, alleviates the troubles of his mundane existence. In the end of the 90 minutes, the hero finds love and the heroine simply just accepts his love.
Finally, Eye on Juliet leaves the audience with this message: Big Brother sees all and he protects. He is the saviour.