David Strat­ton and Evan Wil­liams give their ver­dicts on the lat­est movies

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - David Strat­ton

Liv­ing is Easy With Eyes Closed (Vivir es facil con los ojos cer­ra­dos) (M) Limited re­lease Son of a Gun (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease

IN 1966, Spain had been ruled by the Franco dic­ta­tor­ship for almost 30 years fol­low­ing the de­feat in 1939 of the elected gov­ern­ment in a bit­ter civil war. De­spite this, for 10 or so years the coun­try had be­come a popular des­ti­na­tion for tourists from other parts of Europe, thanks to the low prices and warm weather; it also had be­come a mecca for film­mak­ers. Ital­ian spaghetti westerns and Sa­muel Bron­ston swash­buck­lers were all shot in the south of Spain, as were a cou­ple of films by Richard Lester, the Amer­i­can-born, London-based di­rec­tor who had come to fame di­rect­ing two films with the Bea­tles, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Lester made a very en­joy­able ver­sion of the mu­si­cal A Funny Thing Hap­pened on the Way to the Fo­rum at the Bron­ston Stu­dios and, in 1966, re­turned to Almeria to film his off­beat com­edy How I Won the War, star­ring Michael Craw­ford and, in a non-singing role, John Len­non. It was dur­ing the mak­ing of this film that Len­non be­gan writ­ing the song Straw­berry Fields For­ever, which con­tains the lyrics that give this Span­ish film its ti­tle — and ac­cu­rately re­flects on the fact liv­ing in Spain at that time was, at least for the well-todo, easy as long as you closed your eyes to the ac­tions of the dic­ta­tor­ship.

This is the back­drop to David Trueba’s en­chant­ing film Liv­ing is Easy With Eyes Closed, which is about a small-town school­teacher from La Man­cha ob­sessed with the Bea­tles. An­to­nio, su­perbly played by the fine ac­tor Javier Ca­mara, is so Bea­tle-fix­ated that he teaches his English class the lyrics of Help!, and the film’s open­ing scene amus­ingly de­picts the strug­gle of th­ese kids to master the dif­fi­cult pro­nun­ci­a­tions. When he hears that his idol is ac­tu­ally in Spain, An­to­nio de­cides to drive to Almeria and try to meet him; not only is it a ques­tion of hero wor­ship, he also wants to beg Len­non to publish the lyrics of the songs along with the LPs, some­thing that did, in­deed, oc­cur after Len­non’s Span­ish so­journ.

Dur­ing the drive south, An­to­nio picks up a cou­ple of young run­aways, both flee­ing from the op­pres­sive pa­ter­nal­ism of the so­ci­ety in which they live. Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) wears his hair Bea­tles-style, and has been abused and hu­mil­i­ated by his po­lice­man fa­ther (Jorge Sanz), while sweet Be­len (Natalia de Molina) is three months preg­nant and has es­caped the strict home for un­mar­ried moth­ers where she was dumped by her fam­ily.

Their ad­ven­tures are the sub­ject of a de­light­ful feel-good movie that skil­fully com­bines hu­mour, sen­ti­ment and tart po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary. For Span­ish au­di­ences it surely res­onates even more since one el­e­ment of the com­edy deals with the dif­fer­ent di­alects and at­ti­tudes found in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try (the owner of the run-down ho­tel in Almeria speaks with such a strong ac­cent the vis­i­tors find it hard to un­der­stand him, while the owner of the lo­cal bar is Cata­lan). “Too many peo­ple live in fear in Spain,” An­to­nio says at one point, and the ca­sual vi­o­lence with which au­thor­ity fig­ures sup­press those in weaker po­si­tions (both a priest and a cop are seen to hit chil­dren vi­o­lently) is tes­ta­ment to that. The dic­ta­tor­ship would last for another 10 years. In­ci­den­tally, in a pos­si­ble in-joke, Ca­mara is made to look a lot like Phil Sil­vers, who starred in A Funny Thing Hap­pened on the Way to the Fo­rum. BY now there’s plenty of ev­i­dence that this has been a bad year for Aus­tralian films, at least in terms of lo­cal box-of­fice re­sults. Nor has it been, I think, a vin­tage year in terms of qual­ity. The chief sup­port­ers of lo­cal cin­ema ap­pear to be art-house au­di­ences, and they are un­likely to rush to see a hor­ror film such as The Babadook (ar­guably in terms of sheer qual­ity the best Aus­tralian film of the year so far) or even apoc­a­lyp­tic thrillers such as The Rover and Th­ese Fi­nal Hours. Lo­cal au­di­ences will support en­ter­tain­ments, such as Red Dog and The Sap­phires, in sub­stan­tial num­bers, and they’ll go to a thriller such as An­i­mal King­dom not only be­cause of pos­i­tive reviews but also to see much-loved Jacki Weaver play such a com­mand­ing role.

Which brings me to the lat­est Aus­tralian re­lease, Son of a Gun, a thriller set in Western Aus­tralia, writ­ten and di­rected by Julius Avery, his first fea­ture after mak­ing his mark with some well-re­garded shorts. The film is a generic thriller, a story of a young man who, while do­ing time in a high-se­cu­rity prison, comes in con­tact with se­ri­ous bad guys, gets in­volved in prison es­cape and be­comes a mem­ber of the gang and par­tic­i­pant in the rob­bery of a gold re­fin­ery. It’s the sort of thing Hol­ly­wood has been do­ing suc­cess­fully for years.

The first thing to say is that the film is for the most part very well made. Aside from some un­nec­es­sary but mi­nor wob­bly cam­er­a­work in

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.