Belle Epoque (1992)

Belle Epoque (1992), produced and directed by Fernando Trueba.

A pleasant Spanish romantic comedy bordering on sex farce.

A deserting soldier (six years in the seminary and a good cook) is taken in by a part-time artist with a big country house and four grown daughters. The women all fall for him at least briefly -- even the gay one. A healthy male, he is obliging to all and willing to marry each of them in turn.

Only the youngest thinks this is a good idea: Penélope Cruz at age 18 and in her first year of film-making.

The incident with the lesbian daughter deserves more explanation. He is dressed in drag for a costume party and she is wearing his uniform and a mustache. Finding the combination strangely beguiling she takes him up to the hay loft, mounts him and tries her best to blow his bugle while he offers helpful hints. (A real bugle: that was his job in the army). Hearing of the incident the next day the father exclaims "A miracle!" It is funny, perverse and sweet at the same time.

This daughter is Ariadna Gil and I wish I could see more of her, but all the women are appealing.

In this sort of story the correct attitude makes the plot work. It remains a comedy because no one is hurt and the daughters maintain sisterly solidarity with a minimum of fuss and jealousy. They are adults and will have whatever sexual adventures they want. One is gay and no one minds.

One wonders if the same force of "attitude" works in real life. Can one choose to be outraged or not? Life can be easier or more difficult; why make it harder?

The title means "The Beautiful Era", originally referring to those decades just before WW1 when European civilization was at its peak. What Spanish audiences would recognize in this romantic fantasy of 1931 is that the political conflict would soon stop being comical. The country suffered a civil war of ghastly viciousness, followed by decades of dictatorship.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.