Truly a movie gem, now showing at the Palace Cinemas in Australia, Spain’s memorable Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is an unlikely tale.
This is a delightful, uplifting, joyous, inspirational deep and thought provoking film, which is based on a true story about a man who achieves what many would see today as being impossible and not even try, let alone back in 60’s Spain… meeting John Lennon.
It both captivates and charms, set as it is against the rugged backdrop, the rocky countryside and sun-drenched coastline of southern Spain.
The action takes place during the period when Spain was ruled over by autocratic dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde (1892-1975), head of a patriarchal society for nearly four decades (1939-1975).Everywhere else in the western world at the time it was the swinging sixties, when democracy was being tested to its limits by a rock’n roll generation.
In Spain however, going against the norm was not really advisable.
People were living out their lives in fear and parents were seeking to retain some sort of control over children in an age when familial societal attitudes involved considerable physical abuse.
The young adults of the next generational change are striving hard to not only break free of the system, but also wish to establish a future of their own that offers some promise of better things to come.
During the Spring of 1966, the sixteen year old gentle and sensitive Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) the eldest of six children whose policeman father objects violently to his ‘Beatle’ like hairdo, packs his bag and takes to the road.
On the way when hitchhiking, he meets up with the two people who will become his travel companions on this fabulous adventure of a lifetime for them all.
Juanjo meets the delightful Antonio, a High School Teacher and ‘Beatles’ obsessed fan, brilliantly played by Javier Cámara, who won the Best Actor award in Spain for this amazing performance.
Antonio who is in his mid forties, slightly pudgy, balding and plain, with a delightful countenance and wonderful character, is on the road in his cantankerous car driving across country on a passionate mission to meet and greet the number one ‘Beatle’ himself, his idol John Lennon.
Belén (Natalia de Molina), a beautiful young woman, some twenty years of age, is already on board. She has left a home for unwed mothers in the city still in the early stages of pregnancy, having decided to head for home.
She was also hitchhiking and has already been daringly rescued by Antonio from the first man who offered her a lift, whom she believes, and he knows, will be seeking sexual favours from her in return.
Antonio wants to talk to John Lennon about helping him understand the lyrics for his just-released ‘Revolver’.
He has tried to copy down the English lyrics of the ‘Beatles’ songs as he listens to them, but often misses words. Because he uses the Lyrics to teach his schoolchildren in his class of ’66, English he earnestly wants to ‘fill in the gaps’.
It’s a very simple request as far as the unworldly Antonio can see, and refreshingly he is not intimidated in any way by Lennon’s celebrity status.
In his naivety he cannot see why anyone would refuse his very simple request to just ‘talk to John’ because he knows in his heart of hearts that if he can, then John Lennon will kindly help him to sort it out.
Surmounting the obstacles of this great quest will only prove possible and be achieved with the ‘Help’ of Antonio’s co-travellers and some good luck along the way.
They travel from the north to the south to Almeria, where they stay in faded run down but clean accommodation, where they meet up with a cast of local characters, including a generous tavern owner with his disabled son and a local bully.
Masterminding a job in the tavern for young Juanjo, Antonio shouts Belen a room of her own at the inn.
This was Roman Catholic’ Spain and having a baby out of wedlock was not advisable.
Antonio is both captivated by both Belen’s gentleness and beauty, telling her that if she wishes he will help her out when the time comes if she feels the need to have a husband.
She knows the young sexually inexperienced Juanjo is also infatuated with her, and so she is torn between the genuine affection and caring she feels for both her companions on the road.
The audience feels the triumph Antonio feels when he finally achieves his goal. On the movie set he is invited to meet and greet with John Lennon in his caravan, where he stays for quite a while.
He is also treated to the great singer giving him a one on one unique and special performance accompanying himself on guitar, of the lovely song he’s just finished writing, Strawberry Fields Forever.
Lennon also allows Antonio to record him singing on his tape recorder, so that he can play it to his English class.
The delight that Antonio and his two companions feel are real experiences that, we all feel too, because our bonding and emotional connection to this trio of unlikely companions is so beautifully made.
Together they go through so many life-changing experiences that are superbly directed by David Trueba, who paces the whole story so perfectly.
Everyone feels like spontaneously cheering when Antonio, right near the end of the movie finally triumphs over the bully who humiliated him, and has given his friend Juanjo a hard time.
The movie won Spain’s awards in 2014 for Best Picture, Best Director, best New Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score, which includes many of the Beatles songs including the lovely Strawberry Fields Forever.
This was the first song the Beatles recorded after John Lennon returned from Spain in 1967.
It was also the first song the Beatles recorded, that offered fans a copy of the lyrics printed in English on the CD cover.
Beautifully observed and realised, without becoming maudlin or over sentimental in any way, this was one of the most delightful, gentle, poignant and pleasing movies I have seen so far this year.
I just loved it – 4/5
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014