LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED (2014, Spain)
SUNDAY 14 February 10.00 am
TUESDAY 16 February 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 108 minutes
It is 1966, Franco-era, in Albacete, Spain. English teacher and die-hard Beatles fan Antonio decides to go on a road trip to Almería in the hope of meeting John Lennon, who is shooting a film there. On the way he picks up two hitch-hikers, Juanjo and Belén. This unlikely trio form a bond and decide to follow their dreams in hopes of finding their freedom.
REVIEW BY PHILIPPA HAWKER
Spanish filmmaker David Trueba came across the subject matter for his new film quite by accident. It wasn't just the tale of John Lennon's 1966 Spanish sojourn that intrigued him. It was the account of a teacher of English with a Beatles obsession who was determined to meet Lennon and ask him about his lyrics – lyrics that he used as a teaching aid in the classroom.
Trueba read about this man in 2006, when the town of Almeria was celebrating the 40th anniversary of Lennon's presence; he had come there to take an acting role in a satirical comedy with director Richard Lester, called How I Won The War. The other significant element in the project was a personal one. The novelist and filmmaker is the youngest of eight brothers; at the time Lennon was in Spain, Trueba's second brother was locked in a struggle with his father about the length of his hair. "He was trying to get his hair long, because he was a crazy fan of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And my father was a typical Spanish father at the time of Franco, very authoritarian. So he told him to cut his hair. And one day my brother left home because of that."
To the figure of Antonio, the teacher (Javier Camara) Truebe, adds a teenage boy, Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who has run away after a haircut showdown. And there's a pregnant girl, Belen (Natalia de Molina), who has hit the road, wanting to make her own decisions about the future. The three embark on a trip together: it's a voyage of discovery for them all, a delicately observed, tender and poignant story.
Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed begins with a demonstration of the teacher's technique, as he uses the lyrics of Help to teach his students English – one after another, the kids speak a line from the song, with a passionate enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to shoot the scene, Trueba says, but it took him a long time to cast. Even for brief appearances, he wanted performers who had the look and feel of the time. "Faces are the most important landscape of a film," he says. "Often, when I see period pieces now, I have the feeling they have paid a lot of attention to the details of decoration and costume, but they use faces and behaviours that are contemporary."
He also believes that makers of period films frequently adopt a cynical attitude towards their characters, a position of moral superiority towards the past. That's something he definitely didn't want in this film or in its three leads. He sought authenticity in their performances and their backgrounds. The young actors are both kids from small villages, he says. And Camara, an Almodovar regular who's a familiar face in Spanish cinema, "actually comes from a village in the north, and he maintains the spirit of a person who is not very urbanised. He's not a very psychological kind of actor, he's more naturalistic, and that reminds me of the best actors in Spain in the '50s and '60s. That's why I put him in the movie."
Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed takes its title from a phrase from Strawberry Fields Forever, a song that marked a new direction for Lennon. It's a recollection of childhood and pain and places in his past. He revealed in an interview in the 1970s, that he wrote it while he was in Spain, feeling isolated and uncertain, and unsure of his future with the Beatles.
"That song became very important for me," Trueba says. "I didn't want to make the film about John Lennon, or make him an important presence in the film, but I wanted him to be a moral presence. And in that way Strawberry Fields Forever was important, too."