When his older brother Ikenna (Chukwudi Iwuji) hasn’t been heard from in over a year, musician Amandi (O. C. Ukeje) travels the several thousand miles from Nigeria to São Paulo in search of his wayward sibling. The gifted mathematician has supposedly been working as a professor at a prestigious university, but when it emerges that neither the job or the university was real, Amandi is pulled into a world on the edges of society as he follows Ikenna’s search for the true meaning of reality.
From photoshopped pictures of his new property to a fake university page advertising his credentials, it is clear that Ikenna — still trying to maintain appearances as the successful eldest child — has gone to a great level of deception in order to keep his family happy. “Too much expectation can break a man” his uncle admonishes Amandi when he complains about his brother’s perceived selfishness in his disappearance. Directed by Matias Mariani, Shine Your Eyes is not so much a film about a missing sibling, but instead the way we interact in families, the unspoken rules that are meant to be adhered to.
Ikenna, as the eldest child, is supposed to take care of the family, to be the “man” — a future that he was reluctant to take part in, preferring instead to search out his own new destiny. Meanwhile, Amandi is held up of the reincarnation of his brother – undeniably tied to a man with whom he shares little beyond blood.
Pulling together the jigsaw places left behind by Ikenna, Amandi moves from internet cafes to the racing track – encountering one of Ikenna’s few friends, a Hungarian immigrant Miro (Paulo Andre) who tells him of his brother’s plan — uncovering an algorithm that can explain life itself. As Amandi begins to slip through the layers of reality in São Paulo chasing a ghost that does not want to be found, his own perception of the expectations around him begins to change.
Leonardo Bittencourt’s cinematography captures the varied architecture of the city, so often shooting from below Amandi as he navigates this unknown place without a common language with many of the residents. Language is key in this multi-cultural city — there is Igbo, English, Portuguese, Hungarian spoken throughout the film. There are miscommunications however, and feelings that can only be spoken in one tongue, and relatives who have forgotten their shared family languages through age.
São Paulo is constructed as a place of layers, of communities living side-by-side but often without interaction, buildings both old and new folding over each other, piled high into the sky, and Amandi and Ikenna navigate this unfamiliar city in different ways, each searching for their own revelation.
Shine Your Eyes is not a film with easy answers – it resists categorization by shifting between genres with a light-touch. It is romance, self-discovery, a mystery and a film firmly placed in magical realism.