This 1992 Oscar-winning foreign film follows the story of a soldier deserting his duty during the Spanish civil war. The film's title Belle Époque translates from French as the "Beautiful Era", a reference to an era of French history. The film was directed by the famous Spanish filmmaker, Fernando Trueba.
Fernando, the main character is an army deserter who eventually meets and becomes friends with an elderly man by the name of Manolo, the owner of a large country house and a perfect place for Fernando to stay. All is fine for a few days but then Fernando decides to pack up his bags and leave. However, just as he is about to go, the four young, beautiful daughters of his host arrive, and so the protagonist is quickly persuaded to stay.
Over the next part of the film, Fernando's attention is caught by each of the girls in turn, and he ends up seducing the three older sisters - Clara, Rocio and Violeta - in turn, even though he is meant to be looking for a wife. However, each of these sisters has their own problems. One of them is a lesbian who is only attracted to Fernando when he is dressed as a woman; another is only using him for comfort after her husband left her; while the last is a social climber who is getting married to a high profile man from a royalist family and who only just gives in to Fernando.
Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Luz, becomes increasingly jealous of all the attention her sisters are getting from Fernando. Eventually, Fernando picks up on this, and realizes that she is much more innocent and naive and that he should have noticed her straight away. After realizing that Luz is the right girl for him and the one that he should marry, he finally seduces her like the rest of her siblings.
The main male characters, Manolo and Fernando are played by Fernando Fernán Gómez and Jorge Sanz respectively. Meanwhile, the girls in the film are played by a number of famous Spanish actresses, including Maribel Verdu as Rocío and Penelope Cruz as Luz. All of the performances by the actors are strong, even though the majority of them are exaggerated for the farce and comedic effect. However, the comedy in Belle Époque is complimented with the convincing and heartfelt portrayal of Luz by Cruz. Her performance is very realistic and offers the audience a feeling that all of us can identify with. It comes as no surprise therefore that nearly all of the actors and actresses were nominated for some award or prize for their performances.
Reception and Legacy
Belle Époque is considered to be a light hearted comedy, which despite being set in the Spanish Civil War, is not laced with political messages, and focuses on its goal. There are numerous elements of farce in the film which flow easily making it an easy to watch film. It also makes you laugh without being too over the top or graphic, and manages to have 4 sex scenes without any nudity - an achievement in itself!
The film had warm reviews and was welcomed by audiences and critics alike. Its popularity earned it an array of very respectable awards, amongst them:
- Oscar for the Best Foreign Film
- 10 Goya awards including Best Film and Best Director.
The fact that the film was directed by Fernando Trueba explains some of the elements of humor which are evident in Belle Époque. Trueba was heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel and Billy Wilder and their comedy can be seen in the film, albeit in a more erotic manner than the films of these directors.
An interesting aspect of the character of Manolo is the fact that he is an agnostic, and isn't particularly interested in the politics that are happening around him during the play's setting of the Spanish Civil War. As soon as Fernando arrives at the home of this man, it appears as though everything that is happening in Spain is unimportant. The family villa is a world on its own; a place where innocence and sexuality are free and accepted as part of life.