Monday, April 21, 2014

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed - the film

There are some beautiful souls among us who never shed their youthful idealism or their commitment to helping others find their way along the path. This is a film about one of them.

Antonio (Javier Camera) is a high school teacher in a small Spanish town at the end of the Franco era who uses Beatles songs to teach his students English. He’s inventive, kind-hearted, chubby, bald, and full of humor and intelligence. He’s also single and slightly lovelorn.

He tapes the new Beatle songs on Belgian radio before they're available in Spain, but some of the words remain obscure. Hearing that John Lennon has flown in to make a film in nearby Almeria province (Richard Lester’s How I Won the War), he decides to drive there on a long weekend to ask the famous Beatle to help him fill in the blanks in his transliteration of the song lyrics. It’s a na├»ve and Quixotic quest, but Antonio is confident he’ll be able to penetrate the film set and catch John’s attention somehow.

Along the way he picks up two hitchhikers, both of whom we’ve already gotten to know in other scenes. One is a young woman named Belen who’s pregnant and fleeing the Catholic institution where her parents have sequestered her. The other is a teenage boy named Juanjo who’s left home to avoid getting a haircut. He likes his hair long; his father, a cop, doesn’t.

This unlikely trio get to know one another on the road. When Antonio learns that Juanjo prefers the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, he slams on the brakes—they’re out in the middle of nowhere—and demands that Juanjo get out and walk. “Let Mick Jagger drive you,” he shouts.

He’s only joking, as it turns out. Antonio is actually a soft-hearted man who adores kids and quotes Antonio Machado freely:
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only waves in the sea.
 I say “soft-hearted” although Antonio stands up defiantly for his young passengers at several places in the film. “You cannot live in fear,” is his mantra, though in Franco’s Spain it’s difficult, and dangerous, to do otherwise.

 Almeria province at the time (1966) was a poverty-stricken place, and the unlikely trio soon hole up in a desolate bar-hotel frequented by agricultural workers and urchin-like children. The dialect is so obscure that Antonio can barely make out what the night-shift inn keeper is saying.

The good thing is, the film set is only a few miles away across the desert wastes.

I’m not going to tell you how that particular escapade turns out, nor describe in detail various other encounters Antonio, Belen, and Juanjo have with the locals and with one another. Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is a film about growing up, Fascist Spain, teaching, the importance of youth and idealism, and several other things. It’s a film where Antonio Machado meets John Lennon, in a manner of speaking. And it’s one of the most humorous and touching films I’ve seen in a long time.

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