Living is Easy with Eyes Closed: Abiding by the strawberry fields

Heba El-Sherif, Wednesday 26 Nov 2014

A heartwarming tribute to a Beatles generation, and Spain's official submission to the 2015 Oscar race

Living is Easy (with eyes closed)

Antonio San Roman, played by Javier Camara, is the charmed, dreamy English teacher at the heart of Living is Easy with Eyes Closed.

David Trueba's latest feature, which borrows its title from The Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever, opens in a school in Albacete, Spain. Inside the classroom, San Roman teaches his students about hope and friendship through studying the lyrics of The Beatles song Help! Outside, another teacher beats a young boy who is seen standing outside his classroom after being punished. At that moment, San Roman's eyes soften with disapproval.

The film is set in 1966, around the second half of Fransisco Franco's rule. In the story, we sample glimpses of the oppressive state of public institutions, heavy-handed fathers and countryside bullies, all symbolising the iron-fist that reigned over Spain during Franco's dictatorship (1939-75). And while political commentary is a thin streak that only runs in the margin, the light-hearted plot creates plenty of room for viewers to learn about what some Spaniards opposed – and the change they longed to see.

San Roman is a bald 40-something that flips an iron and uses its flat surface to heat water, and like most foreign-language primary teachers, his subject is not taken seriously and students subtly ridicule him. The mockery heightens when he announces that he is going to drive to Almeria to meet his idol, John Lennon, who is there shooting a film.

True to the romantic nature of dreamers, San Roman never doubts that he will indeed meet Lennon. En route, he picks up two hitchhikers: Belen (Natalia de Molina), a young pregnant girl who is trying to find her way back to her family, and Juanjo (Fransesc Colomer), a 16-year-old boy with a Beatles hair cut who has escaped from home.

The Fab Four, as the media dubbed the Beatles, offered their generation hope and positivity amid a time of war and oppressive regimes, and in a way, San Roman offers the same to Belen and Juanjo. As such, the film delicately cuts through the predominant political frame of the 1960s, a time during which the words of a song by The Beatles were considered life saving. 

The trio comes together when both teens are loaded with cynicism and a sense of hopelessness towards their own fates, but as San Roman treads closer to achieving his dream to meet Lennon, the young and troubled duo seem to edge closer to fulfilling their own desires.

Belen is half-heartedly trying to find her way home, because as a non-married pregnant woman she knows she will be put to shame. She does not talk or dress like a typical rebel, but in the delicacy of this character, Trueba suggests that even the soft-spoken can take on extraordinary actions.

San Roman belongs to the anti-establishment movement of the 1960s. And although Trueba does not delve too much into their lives before they find a temporary home in San Roman's car, we are offered enough to realise they are rising against their seniors. Theirs is a generation that opposed the paradigms governing sexuality, women's rights and traditional modes of authority. Through both characters, Trueba sheds light on the universal fight for freedoms that mushroomed during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Stubborn and slightly naïve, both Belen and Janjo are easily swayed by San Roman's occasional life lessons, making their characters truly relatable. Meanwhile, Camara delivers an admirable and heart-felt performance as the cliché-loaded teacher, outshining the young actors.

Daniel Vilar brings the warmth of the Spanish countryside to the screen. His lens captures dreamy and generous shots of the sunlit sky, the rays of the sun sometimes literally leading the characters to the light.

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is a testament to the fact that The Beatles touched the non-English speaking world as much as they influenced listeners in the UK and the US. The film draws inspiration from lyrics like "it's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out" and "nothing to be hung about," highlighting their political and social relevance in Spain.

Like a Beatles song, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is dreamy and honest, a stirring journey that is not easily forgotten.

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