Just saw this a second time. Nothing changes in the review! It’s out now on the regular circuit…
Stop the presses! For one of the most beguiling, sweetest movie you’ve seen in a long while, make sure to put Living Is Easy (With Eyes Closed) on your list. It had a one-night stand last night at the Rafael Theater in San Rafael, CA and will open for a longer run on March 20. You’ll likely be able to find it closer to your home sometime in the spring. Since I am the kind of person who has to be reminded to smile from time to time, I took notice near the end of the movie that an unusual Duchenne had grown on me, and settled in for the duration.
Don Antonio [Javier Cámera] is a mild mannered, pudgy, not well-shaven but sweetly ebullient teacher of grammar school boys in small town Spain, mid 1960s. Franco is still in power and all the social circumspection that comes with dictator backed, church enforced behavioral standards is in play. As elsewhere in the western world, and despite Church and State, those standards were beginning to unravel. For many, the Beatles were the annunciatory piper. And so, Don Antonio, in love with the music, uses lyrics he has decoded from repeated listening, to teach his students English. (Wonderful to see!)
When he finds out that John Lennon is in Almería to make a movie, and only a day’s drive from his home, it’s a chance of a life-time. (It’s never said, but the movie was How I Won the War.) Off he goes in a rattle-trap small car with a few things to tell Mr. Lennon. Along the way he picks up two young hitchhikers, the luminescent Belén [Natalia Molina] running from a home for unwed mothers, and the shy, very young sixteen year old boy, Juan Jose [Francesc Colmer], escaping a domineering father after an argument about his hair. Antonio’s easy repartee with the two is a pure delight, with just enough uneasiness stirred in us — is his quest going to lead to humiliation? Is he going to turn out to be a creep? — that both tension and humor hold us. Not to mention Belen’s loveliness, even as she battles morning sickness. A quiz he sets them, mid journey, about what nick-name his students have given him, is a grin in itself, wonderfully capped near the end when it is revealed.
Near Almería, the Spanish deep south, they meet a Catalan transplant with a wheel-chair bound son — cerebral palsy — running a ramshackle roadside bar. Various locals appear, with accents so thick the newcomers can barely understand them. [Otherwise, the spoken Spanish is clear and accessible. A class of students were sitting in my row, improving theirs.] Themes of friendship, kindness, spontaneity, bullying, standing up to bullies are nicely laced into the plot — above all perhaps Antonio’s determination, teetering on being a mono-mania but tempered by his sheer, Quixotic, enthusiasm for life, which rubs off on both runaways, and us.
One “friendship” scene, while not American movie torrid, is erotic enough to likely raise persistent questions from say, a ten year old attendee with you. Your call.
The title comes from the opening verse of Strawberry Fields Forever, which Lennon did write, in Almeria, while making a movie, in 1966. You’ll come to appreciate it all over again as it takes its place in the film, along with Help!, which provides the opening and closing notes of the story. By the way, following that trip to Spain, the Beatles included written lyrics with all their albums. Don Antonio’s story is based on a real teacher. I hope as wonderful as his screen counterpart.
Really! Don’t miss it!