By K.C. Conner
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Belle Epoque" has all the ingredients that attract many Americans to foreign films, and that does not mean subtitles.
This film, which won the most recent Oscar for best Foreign Film, is a picaresque tale that contains a healthy dose of sex, a different moral perspective and a lusty Spanish earthiness that is down-right refreshing after a string of squeaky-clean American films.
Sure people curse in American films, and they blow each other away with gusto, but they rarely transgress a standard code of morals. This "puritanical" code is so prevalent in American movie-making that filmgoers raised on the stuff are still shocked at nudity and "abnormal" sexual practice.
"Belle Epoque" comes from a different tradition. It is set in Spain in 1931, just five years before Spain's bloody civil war. It is the story of Fernando (Jorge Sanz), a young bugle boy who finds himself in a rural part of Spain after having deserted the army. Fernando makes his way to a small village where he makes the acquaintance of Manolo (Fernando Fernan-Gomez), an old painter and bourgeoise landowner who offers to take Fernando in until his four daughters come to visit for the summer. But when that day arrives, and Manolo takes Fernando to the train, the young man decides not get on when he gets an eyeful of Manolo's four beautiful daughters Violeta, Clara, Rocio, and Zu, arriving. Fernando later walks back to Manolo's Villa, saying he missed his train, and making excuses about there being no inn in the village. With a smirk Manolo takes him in again.
What follows is a succession of brief affairs between Fernando and the daughters, with little chance of creating a permanent union. Fernando is young. He wants to get married and go to America, but each daughter he finds himself in a clutch with, by her initiative, doesn't really want him.
Manolo is well aware of the goings on, but he is a worldly man and besides, he likes Fernando.
Some of the best scenes take place when Manolo's wife, a singer, returns home from a tour of South America with her Frenchman accompanist/lover. Manolo takes this affair in stride as well. He is willing to share his wife to keep her happy.
"Belle Epoque," directed by Fernando Trueba, is a particularly beautiful film. The dry, beautiful landscape and the costumes of the period make for memorable visuals.
The film also includes an enjoyable cast of village characters, like a hard drinking priest, a devout boy who also is in love with one of Manolo's daughters, and various political reactionaries on either side.
The political situation of the era informs the structure of the film's plot. No one quite knows were they belong in relation to everyone else, just as the political climate could lead in any direction. Some characters follow the secular Republicans, others Royalist Catholics, but in retrospect we know they will all eventually get the fascist, Franco.
"Belle Epoque" is about innocence, before life makes you come of age. It is the story of Spain, as much as it is the story of Fernando.
"Belle Epoque" is playing at the Loft Cinema, for information and show times call 795-7777. Read Next Article