Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 4:11 pm 
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David Trueba: Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed (2013)- US DVD


A footnote to a footnote makes a little Spanish road trip charmer

An Independent article tells the whole story. It's a true one. In this little Spanish film, "national treasure" Javier Cámara plays Antonio San Roman, real-life school English and Latin teacher in Spain in 1966. He actually did seek out John Lennon in Almería in 1966 when the Beatle was on location playing a small role in Richard Lester's How I Won the War. Trueba turns the story into a charming, if slight, road picture that's full of regional and period flavor, and satisfyingly short on schmaltz . The spirit of Fellini comes out for a moment, only to retreat.

The teacher, a bald, chubby and bespectacled bachelor, has his boys recite lines from Beatles songs in English class and in an early scene we see them elucidating the themes of the song "Help!" Lester's film of that name had recently come out. When the teacher goes on the road in a shaky but feisty little bright green car borrowed from a relative, heading for southern Almería (stamding in for North Africa in Lester's film), to meet his hero John Lennon, he picks up two runaways from middle class families along the way in Madrid for company. They are the pretty and very self-possessed Belén (a simpatica Natalia de Molina), a young unmarried woman "three months and something" pregnant, and quiet, artistic Beatle-haired 16-year-old Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), taking an impulsive break from his belligerent father. One of the film's accomplishments one can't so easily imagine an American indie carrying off is to make this a working trio without any sentimentality or pushed quirkiness.

The local flavor comes in the rough characters in a bar-restaurant-hotel where the traveling trio stay overnight, including the kindly cafe owner (Ramon Fontsere), and his handicapped but cute son Bruno (Rogelio Fernández). The three sneak into a luxurious local cinema with red seats and decor to catch a showing of the film's latest rushes, then quickly escape. Antonio glimpses little Julian Lennon and gets flower pots thrown at him by his mother Cynthia Lennon.

Then, separating, then coming together again, the three go to where they're shooting the film and Antonio is allowed to visit Lennon in his trailer, where they spend time. The Beatle fills in gaps in his lyrics that Antonio had copied off the radio, using colored pens, yellow, for "Yellow Submarine." "Taxman" and "Eleanor Rigby" were included. (This really happened.)

What is the point of all this? I don't know. Maybe it's really to show the quiet stagnation and repression of a time when there's not much future, the civil guard is everywhere, and fathers and teachers (including sadistic nuns) smack their students till they get dizzy and their ears ring. People live in fear. For this humble teacher it's a chance to live a dream, meeting his idol, and for the boy and girl it's a moment in limbo when they too can dream.

The film skirts delicately on the edge of "true" events and pieces together a footnote to history, a small moment in the Beatle's life, a big one in the Spanish teacher's. "The real-life teacher Juan Carrón Gañàn is now 88 years old and still teaching English. 'The notebook still exists,' says Trueba" (Independent article). This is a footnote to a footnote, but Trueba makes it grow into his own film, building moments between the three characters, together, and separately, that unfold naturally and are fun. There's no Little Miss Sunshine contrived quirk here, just one thing at a time, in a humanistic tradition, with a modern boldness here and there, and no smarm. And a fresh memory of John Lennon in his own voice and time.

Strawberry fields forever. . .


Living Is Eaay with Eyes Closed/Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrado, in Spanish and English, 108 mins., with warm, delicate music by Pat Metheny and the late Charlie Haden, debuted at San Sebastián Sept. 2013; over a dozen other festivals into March 2015. It was Span's 2014 Best Foreign Oscar submission (not a finalist); it won 8 Goya awards. Limited US release 27 June 2014. It comes out on DVD from Strand Releasing in the US 21 April 2015.

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