Beatles fans will recognize the title of David Trueba’s award-winning Spanish dramedy, “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed,” as the first line of the first verse in John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
It’s an appropriate title for Trueba’s smart and delightful movie, which follows the touching travels of a 40-ish English-language teacher, Antonio (Javier Cámara), determined to meet Lennon while the latter temporarily resides in Almeria, Spain, in 1966.
Spain, of course, was living under the oppressive rule of Franco and his fascists at the time. Harsh power wielded over the vulnerable is a refrain in this film; it seems much of Spanish life and culture at the time reflects everyday, street-level tyranny.
Rebelling in his own fashion is Antonio, who takes emotional and spiritual inspiration from Beatles songs, using the English-language lyrics to “Help!” as a tool to open his students’ eyes to a better life. Aware that Lennon is in Almeria co-starring in Richard Lester’s film “How I Won the War,” Antonio embarks on an odyssey to meet his hero.
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As with any road movie, Antonio’s trip becomes less about the destination than the journey and the people one meets along the way.
Traveling with him are two strangers escaping repression back home: 16-year-old Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a runaway eager for independence, and the slightly older Belen (Natalia de Molina), pregnant and unwed but determined not to capitulate to anyone’s expectations.
A kind of instant family emerges among these three, held together by Antonio’s passion and self-effacing wisdom. Cámara is remarkable in the lead, his Antonio convincingly buoyed by the certainty that meeting Lennon can change the dark and dangerous status quo of his own life and, by extension, the lives of those touched by this natural teacher.
Trueba captures it all with a lilting grace worthy of the Beatles at their most enchanting and perspicacious.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org