If Hercules and aren’t your thing, try this scenic drive through the countryside to Almería, Spain, with an unlikely trio of traveling companions. Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, written and directed by David Trueba and based on a true story, is a bittersweet alternative to the typical summer blockbusters. Antonio (played by Javier Cámara, who won a Goya Award for his performance) is an English and Latin teacher on a weekend mission to meet John Lennon on the set of the 1966 film How I Won the War. Antonio wants Lennon to fill in the gaps in a notebook of lyrics he has transcribed from listening to Beatles songs and that he uses to teach his students English. We see Antonio instructing them on pronunciation as well as on the meanings of the songs. (He believes “Help!” is about the pressures of fame and about how we all just need to cry for help sometimes.)
Belén (Natalia de Molina, who won a Goya Award and a Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Award for her performance) is pregnant and unwed, living unhappily in a home for such young women. And Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) is 16 and the oldest of six children; he chafes enough under his father’s authoritarian hand that he runs away from home. Antonio picks up Belén and Juanjo as hitchhikers. A die-hard teacher with a large heart, he’s both happy to have their company and concerned for their welfare. The film toys with us a bit at first, allowing us to see, through the eyes of his passengers, Antonio’s potential for menace, but he’s truly a good person. The movie is filled with genuinely good people (and a few villains), right down to Lennon, whom we never see but whose presence feels very real at key moments.
Antonio’s zest for life — even in the face of admitted loneliness — and his love of music, poetry, and language are contrasted against the backdrop of Franco’s Spain, where Nationalist soldiers dot the roads. It’s obvious for much of the movie that Antonio will fall for the beautiful Belén, though this isn’t ultimately a love story. Belén suffers from the weakest character development of the trio, with the film relying more on her beauty than on her personality, but de Molina imbues her with enough subtext and motivation to make up for this shortcoming.
After Lennon’s time in Spain, all Beatles albums came with printed lyrics. Whether or not this was because of his meeting with the schoolteacher doesn’t matter, because it’s part of the folklore now — part of Lennon’s legacy.
ILiving Is Easy With Eyes Closed, road movie, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles