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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Evita

Starring: Madonna, Antonio Banderas
Director: Alan Parker
Rated: PG
RunTime: 134 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

At the beginning of 20th Century Argentina was so prosperous that many impoverished Europeans in search of better home had good reasons to sail to Buenos Aires instead of New York or Halifax. A hundred years later, economists use the example of Argentina in order to scare governments into responsible policies. Something happened with Argentina in 20th Century, and part of the answer could be found in the reign of Juan Peron, Argentina's controversial president, the man who marked that country's history more than any other person. Yet, most Argentines remember Juan Peron less than his wife Eva, woman whose short but extraordinary life would later serve as a basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's 1978 stage musical EVITA. That musical, one of the most popular in recent history, had to wait almost decades until finally being adapted to big screen. When it finally happened in 1996, that spectacle written and directed by Alan Parker, received some controversy in Argentina, a lot of hype everywhere else and couple of "Oscars" and "Golden Globes".

The plot of the film begins in 1952, when people of Argentina hear the news about the death of their beloved "Evita", and then shifts back in time to rural Argentina where Eva Duarte (played by Madonna) had to grow up with the infamy and humiliation of being extra-marital daughter of local middle-class man. Brief appearance of Argentine top singer Augustine Magaldi (played by Jimmy Nail) in her home town represents opportunity for 15-year old Eva to start brief affair with him and get ticket to Buenos Aires. Once she arrives in the big city there are disappointments and hard times, but Eva instinctively knows how to manipulate men and slowly works her up the social ladder. Fateful meeting with ambitious Colonel Peron (played by Jonathan Pryce) would start one of the most memorable liaisons of 20th Century - Eva marries him and quickly employs her charisma behind his political programme. First display of Evita's charisma would get Peron out of jail and later guarantee his election victory. Once with Peron in presidential palace, Eva continues to outshine her husband and becomes champion of "descamisados" - impoverished masses - and embodies Peron's populist policies while in the same time living the glamorous life worthy of a movie star. But all that comes to a crashing end when Eva discovers that she is afflicted with uncurable disease.

Just like the musical, EVITA consists almost of wall-to-wall songs, with barely a single spoken word. For Alan Parker this was another opportunity to use the same technique he perfected in PINK FLOYD'S THE WALL - rapid editing that combines music with short, but spectacular images. The result of his efforts is impressive - extraordinary story of Eva Peron's life is easy to follow, despite unconventional story-telling technique. Main reason for that is presence of narrator in the form of another famous Argentine - Che (played by Antonio Banderas), combination of every-man, historical character and detached observer who uses every opportunity to point towards inconsistencies and controversies in the life of "Santa Evita". At times, however, Parker gets carried away and some "cute" shots and sequences seem to be self-serving, leaving in the same time some questions for the audience.

Of course, it is hard for stage musical to give detailed picture of economic, social and political circumstances of Argentina in the middle of 20th Century. It is even harder for 1990s Hollywood film to deal with such "heavy" issues (and besides, Argentine filmmakers seem more qualified and more interested in this task). The picture of Eva is simplistic (and perhaps not exactly faithful to historical facts), but it works in the context of film. The music is very effective and those who had enjoyed the original score would get some modern, albeit less effective additions. Madonna, whose acting in many other films leaves much to be desired, handles her role very well. Banderas represents pleasant surprise despite his limited singing abilities, while cast of supporting actors is also quite good, especially Jonathan Pryce in the small but memorable role of a great man forever shadowed by his female partner. EVITA is perhaps somewhat overrated film, but its importance couldn't be entirely - it was entertaining and successful enough to pave the way for modern-day renaissance of musical.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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