Film Scouts Reviews


by Henri Béhar

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Forget the "Event", forget the hype, forget the Streisands and Midlers and Lizas and Pfeiffers that almost played the title role (only Streep came really close), forget the "my life story is so close to hers it's spooky" Madonna-IS-Evita cliche. (Considering Eva Peron went from harlot to actress to wife of a president to secular saint, it's a dubious proposition anyway).

So what have we here?

A film based on a musical that was an "event" some fifteen years ago, inspired by Argentina's late First lady cum icon, Eva Peron. A pop opera revisited by a controversial film maker ("Midnight Express", "Mississippi Burning") whose movies - even the "light" ones - always have an edge ("Pink Floyd: The Wall", "The Commitments"). A vehicle for the latest latino heartthrob who no one knew could sing, and the rock warbler superstar-who-keeps-reinventing-herself-but-can-she-sing-THAT-kind-of-a-score?

Let's get one thing straight: everybody here has done one hell of a job. At his best a powerful director, Alan Parker keeps the yarn spinning, brings forth the historical and sociological background as much as he can, and infuses the screen with high-level energy. The editing is crisp, the cinematography sunny at times, dark and smoky at others (Darius Khondji chief-operatored both Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty" and "City of the Lost Children"). Banderas makes a strong narrator. Okay, Jonathan Pryce as Peron is wasted as he plays second banana to his wife, Madonna.

The problem lies mostly with the constraints and limitations of the original work, and the nature of theatre and cinema - two entirely different beasts. On stage, one could get away with keeping the characters as mere symbols, the lyrics and the score propelling their actions - and the action. (Even then, "Evita" was not exactly "Traviata").

On screen, however, where you can linger and read the faces and the eyes, you need more. More nuance, more detail about the inner workings of minds and souls. *That* you don't have in Alan Parker's film - nor can you, short of writing an entirely different film; but then that would defeat the purpose of adapting Webber and Rice's "Evita" as we know it. By trying to spare both the goat and the cabbage, as the French say, Parker's "Evita" sits on the fence. In the process, the Peron character barely exists, and Che the narrator doesn't quite dare to be a truly Brechtian embodiment of commentator, accomplice, sounding board, reflection and all the faces in the crowd.

The problem with Madonna is that no one can go to "Evita" without some sort of baggage, some pre-conceived notion of her - fueled, one must say, by twenty years of manipulation on her public persona, not to mention the relentless marketing campaign that played unashamedly with both the "parallel itineraries" concept and the "'Evita' is Madonna's make-or-break ticket to Hollywood" syndrome.)

A related problem is, neither can Madonna. Seems to me there is such a desire (not to say desperation) to be loved and accepted that anything remotely edgy is smoothed out, blunted (the lushness of the score and pop-arrangements don't help). Case in point: After the main "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" sung from the balcony of the Casa Rosada to ecstatic crowds, Evita walks back into the room and tells her husband (I quote from memory): "Listen to the voices / See how they love us." The way Madonna sings it, she's amazed, delighted, enthralled. A Meryl Streep would possibly have added a harsher, more cynical, layer: "Listen to them / They love us, we've got them in the palm of our hands."

Make no mistake, Madonna deploys formidable effort and thanks to a coaching marathon, her singing voice has acquired depth and range. It is, undeniably, her best performance since "Desperately Seeking Susan". From a distance, or in excerpts, it is like a splendid fur coat, of which, on closer examination, every hair feels like it's been planted by hand, one by one.

This excessive caution, therefore, make the whole undertaking come off as dazzling - as opposed to brilliant. Almost pat - a word I never thought I'd use for an Alan Parker movie.

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