Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Penelope Cruz, Miriam Díaz Aroca, Gabino Diego, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Michel Galabru
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy
BELLE EPOQUE is the irresistible story of Fernando a handsome young Spanish Civil War deserter who befriends a free-thinking artist. Fernando finds himself in a romantic dilemma when the artist's four beautiful daughters r... more »
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Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 10/10/2010...
Perfectly mediocre film you'd expect to win Best Foreign Language Oscar
*** This review contains spoilers ***
The bulk of 'Belle Epoque' is supposed to be a pastoral romance, a farce of sorts despite being set during the heady eve of the Spanish Civil War in 1931. The film begins inappropriately with our protagonist, Fernando, an army deserter, having just been taken into custody by two officers of the Civil Guard who happen to be father and son-in-law. The father-in-law wants to let Fernando go but the son-in-law, a Nationalist, can't stomach the idea of allowing a 'traitor' to walk free so impulsively he shoots his father-in-law to death but realizing he'll have to face his wife later on and tell her that he's responsible for killing her father, ends up killing himself. Not a very good idea to start off with such an unpleasant scene when most of your story is supposed to be comic in tone.
Fernando arrives in a village and seeks to patronize a prostitute at the local brothel. We find out the local priest has no guilt feelings about playing cards with his buddies inside the brothel. There, Fernando meets one of the priest's fellow card players, Manolo, a retired artist, who invites him to stay at his house. Like most people in the village, Manolo is decidedly pro-Republican and is thoroughly tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Fernando is about to return to Madrid but changes his mind when Manolo's four daughters arrive by train.
Since this is a farce, we're supposed to suspend our disbelief when each of the four daughters falls for the rather passive Fernando with the libertine Manolo encouraging the randy Lothario as he beds each woman.
One of the daughters, Violeta, is an independent woman who works as a veterinarian and also happens to be a lesbian. When the daughters dress Fernando up as a maid for a costume party at a local carnival, Violeta dresses herself up in Fernando's army uniform and then ends up having sex with him inside a barn at the carnival. In a scene more titillating than erotic, Fernando passively lies underneath in his maid's costume as Violeta makes love to him on top. The next day, Fernando informs Manolo of the encounter and he's overjoyed that his daughter now has shown an interest in men. Violeta squelches any possibilities that she has an interest in the opposite sex and makes it clear to her father that in effect the previous night's encounter was simply 'role-playing' and she really has no interest in Fernando.
Despite her great attraction to Fernando, Rocio, another one of Manolo's daughters, has been involved with Juanito, a son of a wealthy Royalist widow, who has difficulty escaping the clutches of his control freak mother. There are some rather unfunny scenes with the mother going after Rocio and Juanito even goes so far as to demand that he be excommunicated from the church by the local priest in order to prove to Rocio he's no longer a mamma's boy. At the same time, Rocio strings Juanito along but eventually realizes that they were made for each other and end up marrying.
Fernando also tries to prove his mettle with Clara, who lost her husband a year before in a drowning accident. The film's scenarists try to extract some humor in a reference to the deceased husband's last meal. Clara mentions that he loved rice and her sister states it was the only dish he knew how to cook. Clara then lamely replies, "I know". Clara becomes so confused over her feelings for Fernando, that she ends up pushing him into the river, in the same spot where her ex-husband drowned. Fernando contracts pneumonia and the daughters then have to attend to him to ensure that he recovers.
The last daughter, Luz (played by Penelope Cruz), is perhaps the least interesting of the four daughters. She's simply childish and is jealous of her three sisters who have already become involved with Fernando. I'm not sure exactly why Fernando ends up with Luz (perhaps he feels sorry for her) but the young couple are seen leaving for America at film's end.
In addition to the sour note of the murder/suicide at the start of the film, there's also another unsavory moment when the priest kills himself after he feels betrayed by his hero, poet/philosopher Miguel de Unamono, who for a short while supported Franco and the Nationalists.
Belle Epoque fails not only for its two brief unnecessary forays into tragedy (the death of the Civil Guards and the Priest suicide) but because the principal characters are decidedly superficial and hence inconsequential. Violeta is basically mean-spirited (recall her unchivalrous tirade after Fernando informs her father of their fling); Rocio is a shallow coquette in regards to her relationship with Juanito, the foolish Clara is disconnected, unable to truly grieve over her lost husband and Luz is simply an immature adolescent. As for Fernando, his behavior with the four daughters speaks for itself!
Only Manolo, the intuitive libertine, comes across as somewhat multi-dimensional character. He's seen as particularly likable when he's willing to accept his opera singer wife's manager who he's quite aware has been involved with her while they've been on tour. Manolo is also a philosopher--I particularly liked when he reads a sensual passage from the 'The Magic Mountain' and concludes with the line: "What youth!".
As a point of comparison, there's a British/Irish film made in 2000 entitled 'About Adam' which has a very similar storyline to Belle Epoque. A young Lothario ingratiates his way into a household consisting mainly of women who have become besotted with him. Both are farcical in tone but 'Adam' manages to exude a slight bit more charm than the specious 'Epoque'.
'Belle' is the perfect kind of mediocre film which you would expect would win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature. It was safe and offended no one which guaranteed all the awards and accolades it managed to garner.
Belle Epoque, Beau Film
P. Morris | Culver City, CA USA | 07/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Belle Epoque is a beautifully rendered film with a good sense of humor and a well-paced plot. Unlike what a previous reviewer wrote, it is actually set in the years PRECEDING the Spanish Civil War, that is, when a republic was established after the abdication of Alfonso XIII in 1931. The debate between Monarchism and Carlism versus Republicanism and Anarchism -a split in Spanish society that would culminate in the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936- is made accessible as expressed by the colorful characters in this movie: the pampered mollycoddle Juanito, the irreverent priest, the artist-patriarch (who nevertheless lives like a "scared old bourgeois"). The Civil War of the 1936-39 was only the last of the many civil wars that erupted in Spain during the modern era (e.g. the Carlist Wars of the Nineteenth Century). The movie will throw light on this turbulent time as it affected ordinary people, and for those of you not squeamish about the idea of a man sleeping with four beautiful women in the course of a few days, I recommend this movie highly. "Belle Epoque" is NOT fluff or late-night soft porn; it is only disguising its gravity behind a façade of lightheartedness."
Funny and sexy, but also has substance
G. DeRome | Greendale, USA | 03/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I disagree with the Amazon editorial. Yes, this is a funny, sexy movie; maybe a young man's dream come true. It also has a lot of real commentary on Spanish society at the time; right before the Spanish Civil War. The characters end the movie thinking all is well in the world and don't know the Civil War is right around the corner. I am sure this aspect is lost on most American audiences, but it is a very real part of the film and juxtaposes the light, sexy, comic aspects of this movie. The scene where the priest hangs himself in the church right before the young couple get married is very symbolic of how the church felt at this time of liberalization and the backlash that led to the Civil War (1930s). See the movie! It is one of my all-time favorites."
Wonderful Spanish film
P. Morris | 08/09/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story line for this film is not anything extraordinary but the actors/actresses weave a wonder web of mayhem and love that pervades through the simple story line to make this a timeless classic. It is also interesting how Trueba uses role reversal to turn the tables on poor Fernando and throws him into a matriarchal setting where the men AREN'T the ones wearing the pants in the family....quite literally in one sense. Overall a great movie that I have seen time and again...Great Castillan spanish accents as well!"