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
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 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.