Featuring: Eduardo Antuña, Celia Bermejo, Francesc Colomer
Director: David Trueba
Writer: David Trueba
Perth release date: Tuesday, May 6 (Perth Spanish Film Festival opener)
Verdict: Pure gold. A funny, charming, heart-warming little film that gets all the fundamentals gloriously right.
The setting is Franco’s Spain, 1966. Antonio (Javier Camara) is a bespectacled bachelor the wrong side of 35, an English teacher who uses Beatles lyrics in his lessons to the bemusement of his mostly underwhelmed and uncomprehending class. When he learns that John Lennon is acting in a film being shot in rustic Almeria, he sets off in his cramped bomb of a car for the small town where the crew and cast are staying, hoping to meet his idol. En route, he picks up two runaways, 20-year-old Belen (Natalia de Molina), who is pregnant and burdened by the prospect of facing her family, and teenager Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who has hit the road after defying his conservative, overbearing father’s demands that he cut his hair. The unlikely trio are drawn together by Antonio’s lively demeanour, warmth and solicitude, and end up finding rough lodgings in the small village where Lennon is rumoured to be. Antonio’s dream to meet his idol, which is thwarted by security and other obstacles, becomes a joint mission.
Beatles aficionados will recognise the title of the film as a line from the enigmatic and wondrous Strawberry Fields Forever. Lennon wrote the song in Almeria – a strawberry-growing area – during the shooting of the anti-war movie, How I Won The War (although popular belief has it that the song references a Liverpool graveyard named Strawberry Fields). Lennon’s film acting venture made headlines in Spain at the time, and this story of an obsessed fan’s pilgrimage is based on real events.
Those weary of 60s nostalgia, fear not: there’s nary a flower child to be seen in this little gem – actually, it’s a solid gold nugget – and Lennon does not figure as a character, appearing only once from a distance, acoustic guitar in hand. He’s a vague presence, the holy grail of the quest that drives the narrative.
That said, the chronological setting is an intrinsic element of the film. The title may be lifted from Lennon’s song, but it also applies to the characters, two of whom are running from confronting aspects of their lives. Clever. Belen is delaying dealing with the realities facing her as a single mother-to-be in an ultra-conservative and oppressed society, Juanjo escaping his differences with his father rather than trying to resolve them. Both, in their ways, are rebelling against the mores of the day, as were so many in the Anglo-Euro world during this time of upheaval and evolving values.
Antonio is the wise elder of the group (albeit an eccentric one!), taking on a mentoring/counselling role with his new young friends, yet he too has some things to face up to. Like the local village rednecks who bully them, led by a physically intimidating farmer – the villain of the piece. While political commentary is only a subtle sub-text here, it’s a small leap to recognise these bullies as emblematic of Franco’s fascist regime, maintaining the status quo by force. Ditto, the officious guards that ridicule Antonio and mercilessly bar him from visiting the film set in the hope of meeting Lennon.
Then there is Antonio’s dream itself. Is Lennon the visionary figure he imagines? Is his quest founded on an illusion? Is it even possible for an ordinary man to access this deity of the era? We begin to have grave doubts on poor Antonio’s behalf when acting on a tipoff he tracks down Lennon’s villa, calls up to his wife (presumably Cynthia) on a balcony, and is pelted with flower pots and roundly abused for his trouble.
As the film approaches its end, there are several scenes that seem to be shaping as fine conclusions. In each instance, the expected credit rolls do not come, and the scene that follows goes one better. When the conclusion does arrive, it is unpredictable and hugely satisfying.
The three main actors are terrific, faultless in fact, led by a truly inspirational Javier Camara, who brings an irresistible and ultimately extremely moving humanity to his character. The outcome of his quest is near-magical in an entirely believable way, paving the way for a delightful augmentation of the Beatles’ legend, complete with mementos to prove that this was not a tall story but an impossible dream realised.
Quite simply, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed is a wonderful film, no less – funny, heart-warming, charming. There is no manipulative sentimental bullshit going on here, either. The movie works so tremendously well because it gets all the fundamentals gloriously right: fabbo acting, beautifully shot, a great script based on an enchanting and compelling story from real life, all the loosest ends tied up in the natural course of the narrative and the rest left appropriately hanging, great characters, all of whom get what they deserve, more or less…
This more than worthy opener to Cinema Paradiso’s Spanish Film Festival has won a swag of awards, and deservedly so. It’s a bloody beauty. Chase it down.
Now let me catch my breath…
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