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Beatles fans may instantly recognize some of the back story behind David Trueba’s film, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, which is receiving its world premiere in San Sebastian. The film’s title also happens to be the opening line of John Lennon’s song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which he wrote in 1966 while in southern Spain (a land of strawberry fields) filming Richard Lester’s anti-war movie, How I Won the War. Lennon’s words take on special significance in a story set in Franco’s Spain during the late years of the dictator’s long reign. Remarkably, the film manages to take on political import while telling a charming, whimsical story of three people who set out to meet Lennon on location. The film drew a rapturous response here, and it might enjoy a modest success in the U.S. if given careful handling by a savvy distributor.
Antonio (Javier Camara) teaches English in a small public school by using lyrics from Beatles songs, so when he learns that Lennon is filming in the Almeria section of Spain, he decides to take a journey to meet his idol. Along the way he meets Belen ( Natalia de Molina), a 20-year-old pregnant girl reluctantly planning to go home to her family, and Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a teenage boy fleeing an overbearing father who disapproves of his Beatles haircut. Antonio offers to take them along on his odyssey, and the three pilgrims form a friendly bond when they set up residence in a modest farmhouse set in those strawberry fields.
The film is a little too leisurely at the beginning as it establishes the lives of the three main characters. It hits its stride once the motley crew arrives in Almeria. Trueba demonstrates warm sympathy for all of the characters, except for a few local bullies who are clearly meant to epitomize the brutality of the Franco regime. An innkeeper, a shopkeeper and his disabled son meet the three visitors and try to facilitate their quest to meet Lennon. This proves to be something of a challenge. When they show up on the set, guards eject them, and when Antonio tries a little foray to Lennon’s local home, the singer’s then-wife throws potted plants at him to get him off the property. But when they sneak into the local movie theater where the film’s rushes are shown, Antonio finds more sympathetic crew members who try to wangle an invitation for him to meet the star. The ending is unpredictable but profoundly satisfying, as it demonstrates how life sometimes delivers happy chance encounters.
The actors help to bring this engaging tale to life. Camara, one of the mainstays of Spanish cinema, gives the film its heart and soul. San Sebastian festivalgoers had a chance to appreciate the actor’s versatility if they happened to see Isabel Coixet’s film, Yesterday Never Ends, in which he gives a superb dramatic performance as a grieving father. In Living Is Easy, he works in a more comedic mode, playing a bumbling loser without the slightest hint of condescension. Camara has the rare ability to transform himself from role to role and completely incarnate each character he portrays. De Molina and Colomer also give winning performances, and each supporting player hits the right note.
Trueba, the younger brother of Oscar-winning director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque), captures the landscapes with considerable agility. The images have an unforced lyricism. Although the film doesn’t overstate its political message, when Antonio tells his young charges, “Too many people live in fear in Spain,” the words resonate. This small gem offers a lovely evocation of Spain as well as a touching tribute to an unforgettable moment in time when the Beatles seemed to offer brand new possibilities, the idea that strawberry fields might indeed go on forever.
Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival.
Cast: Javier Camara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer, Ramon Fontsere, Jorge Sanz, Ariadna Gil.
Director-screenwriter: David Trueba.
Executive producer: Cristina Huete.
Director of photography: Daniel Vilar.
Production designer: Pilar Revuelta.
Costume designer: Lala Huete.
Editor: Marta Velasco.
No rating, 108 minutes.
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