In 1966, a schoolteacher in Spain who used Beatles songs to teach his students English drove from Cartagena to Almeria in hopes of meeting John Lennon, who was filming How I Won the War there. The teacher hoped to ask the singer if he could please include song lyrics in future Beatles albums, because there were certain words he just couldn’t make out.
In Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados), writer-director David Trueba uses that true story as the springboard for an endearing, genial road movie that captures a critical moment in Spain’s history, just like his previous film did (Madrid, 1987). But that movie consisted of a back-and-forth between two characters inside a locked bathroom. Living is Easy, which recently swept the Goyas (the Spanish Oscars), winning Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor, is a much more accessible work, suffused with Trueba’s compassion for his characters and his knack for unexpected, uproarious humor.
Javier Camara (I’m So Excited!) plays the Lennon-obsessed schoolteacher, who picks up a couple of teenage runaways along the way: Belen (Natalia de Molina), who is three months pregnant, and the mop-topped Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who fled home to escape his oppressive dad (Jorge Sanz). The relationships between the characters don’t always develop the way you’d expect, and a stopover at a remote tavern adds a few more memorable characters into the fray.
In the background, Trueba constantly reminds you of the oppressive nature of Franco’s reign over Spain. Every time someone turns on the radio, religious talk shows spout from the speakers. In one scene, the crisis of the lower classes is conveyed with subtlety and grace. And when the teacher tells his two young hitchhikers, “You can’t live in fear. Too many people in Spain live in fear,” he’s referring to a local bully, but his comment is loaded with political undertones.
Like his Oscar-winning brother Fernando (Belle Epoque), Trueba is an optimist — he believes in the best in people — and this sunny, melancholy comedy depicts a country unaware it’s on the cusp of great upheaval and change. Does the teacher succeed in his unlikely mission to meet Lennon? No spoilers here, but Beatles fans who can recall their late-’60s album jackets can guess the answer. Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is a funny and humane fable that encourages us to dream big. Because what do we have to lose?
Cast: Javier Camara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer, Ramon Fontsere, Jorge Sanz, Ariadna Gil.
Writer-director: David Trueba.
Running time: 108 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, adult themes. Plays at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and 9:30 p.m. March 15 at Paragon Grove.