Antonio is a balding English teacher in 1960s Spain. Franco and his fascists are still in power, and the burden of that oppressive rule is felt throughout the culture – nuns quick to slap students, quicker to seize the babies of unwed mothers, cops not afraid of getting rough.
Comedies and dramas about heroic priests fill the cinemas. And radio? It’s all Catholic Mass, all the time.
But at night, Antonio (Javier Camara) secretly listens to Radio Luxembourg. He loves the Beatles. He reaches his students by having them learn their English through the lyrics to “Help!” And the kids dig it. He wants to share this with John Lennon, who just happens to be filming the anti-war comedy “How I Won the War” in Almeria. Antonio will take off, on school break, and meet his idol.
“Living is Easy With Eyes Closed” (“Vivir es facil con los ojos cerrados”) is a picaresque Spanish comedy with subtexts as serious as a history lesson. It touches on a Spain where everyone who was “different” lived in fear, where decades of censorship and cultural repression sat bottled up until the day Franco died. Wonder where those outrageous films of Pedro Almodovar came from? It was the cork popping on a vibrant country freed from the conditions we see here.
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As shy, bookish and unfailingly kind Antonio makes his way to Almeria, he picks up Belen (Natalia de Molina). She needs to get to Malaga, and bachelor that he is, Antonio knows what her little vomiting episodes signal. The viewer has seen the facility she escaped from, where Belen watched another unwed mother-to-be step up on and jump off a chair, repeatedly, in an effort to induce a miscarriage.
Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) is staging his own mini-rebellion in the fashion of millions of teens the world over. He’s grown his hair into a mop top. His bully-cop father isn’t having it, so he’s run away.
The two teens have a ride all the way to the coast, so long as they share Antonio’s passion for the Fab Four. Not a fan?
“Let Mick Jagger drive you!”
Antonio has written John a note which is he certain will get him past movie production security. Lennon’s are “lifesaving songs,” cries for freedom and “help” that the songwriter himself is answering.
Writer-director David Trueba’s “inspired by a true story” road comedy cleaned up at the Goyas – the Spanish Oscars – and it’s easy to see why. It’s visually lovely, and the performances are subtle, sunny and sympathetic. Camara lends a playful touch to Antonio’s Beatlemania.
Half a century after the Beatles, here’s a film in Spanish (with English subtitles) that reminds us just what that music represented to its first generation of fans – freedom. Lonely, feeling stifled by your culture? “Help!” was as near as a local record store, or Radio Luxemburg, should this liberating music be banned by the grownups.