Directed by Alan Parker
Written by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone, based on Tim Rice’s book for the stage version of Evita
Starring: Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail
Ché: Tell me before I seek worthier pastures and thereby restore self-esteem, how can you be so short-sighted to look never further than this week or next week to have no impossible dream?
Eva Perón: Allow me to help you slink off to the sidelines and mark your adieu with three cheers! But first, tell me who’d be delighted if I said I’d take on the world’s greatest problems – from war to pollution, no hope of solution, even if I lived for one hundred years?
Alan Parker’s Evita, which stars Madonna as Eva Duarte de Peron, Antonio Banderas as Che, and Jonathan Pryce as Argentinian dictator Juan Peron, is a flashy but superficial adaptation of a popular 1979 rock opera. Like its title character, Evita represents the triumph of style over substance; we marvel at Parker’s flair for showmanship and Madonna’s unexpectedly moving and serene singing, but we end up knowing as much about Eva Duarte’s heart and mind as we did when the movie started – not much.
True, Evita is a musical and not a traditional biopic like Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning Gandhi. It is, instead, a feature-length music video that breezily covers 26 years of Eva Duarte’s rags-to-riches life to the tune of 1970s-style rock-disco songs by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.
Evita begins in a Buenos Aires cinema on July 26, 1952. A group of moviegoers is outraged when the projectionist stops the feature film. The patrons’ anger turns into nearly-hysterical sorrow when the theater manager informs them that Argentina’s First Lady Eva Peron has died.
Ché: Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show! Argentina has gone to town over the death of an actress called Eva Peron. We’ve all gone crazy, mourning all day and mourning all night, falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right. Oh, what an exit! That’s how to go. When they’re ringing your curtain down, demand to be buried like Eva Peron. It’s quite a sunset, and good for the country in a roundabout way. We’ve made the front page of all the world’s papers today.
The spectacle of Eva’s state funeral prompts the cynical Che (a sanitized and clean-shaven replacement for the stage musical’s more radical Che Guevara) to smirk at the country’s public display of affection for a former B-movie actress and prostitute who slept her way to the pinnacles of power in 1940s Argentina. Early on, Che accuses Evita of doing nothing for the poor that she purportedly championed during Juan Peron’s fascist dictatorship.
The rest of Evita is essentially an extended flashback that begins in 1926 when Eva, then seven years old and living in a rural province far from Buenos Aires, is hauled away from her father’s funeral. Why? Because her mother was not the man’s wife but his mistress.
A quick segue later, Eva (now played by Madonna), is 15 and sleeping with tango singer Agustin Magaldi (Jimmy Nail). Popular in the provinces, Magaldi now wants to make his name in Buenos Aires, the bustling capital city known as the Paris of the Americas. Eva, young, ambitious, and eager to rise above her social class, wants to follow Magaldi there.
At first, Magaldi refuses, but Eva cleverly uses her sexual wiles to get her way, and the singer becomes the first of many lovers Evita seduces and then abandons on her climb to the pinnacle of power in 1940s Argentina.
Unlike West Side Story or South Pacific, which mix scenes with spoken dialogue and song-and-dance numbers to tell their stories, Evita follows Mrs. Peron’s meteoric rise to political power mostly through wall-to-wall music. In its 135-minute running time, Madonna only delivers 140 words of spoken dialogue.
As spectacle, Evita works fairly well. Alan Parker is good at choreographing big set-piece scenes such as the aforementioned funeral for Evita, huge political rallies organized by the Peron regime or their opponents, and Eva’s cathartic farewell to Argentina from the Casa Rosada balcony. As envisioned by Parker and shot by Darius Khondji, Evita is a visual masterpiece, full of period grit and glitz fit for a woman known more for her love of style than her substance as a power broker.
(To illustrate the glitz aspect of Evita, it is worth recalling that this 1996 film holds the world record for most costume changes. According to the Internet Movie Database [IMDb], Madonna’s Eva Peron changes outfits 85 times, topping Elizabeth Taylor’s tally of 65 in 1963’s Cleopatra.)
Musically, too, Evita is entertaining. The entire cast, including a surprisingly good Antonio Banderas, recorded the songs (including the new “You Must Love Me,” which was written for the film) in a studio before principal photography began. Madonna, who was then only known for her provocative pop-rock repertoire, acquits herself here nicely. Her renditions of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and Evita’s signature song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” are surprisingly moving and delicately delivered.
What Evita doesn’t do too well is explore the depths of its central figure. Besides Eva’s almost obsessive desire to rise above her social class and avenge the slights she suffered at the hands of Argentina’s elite, what drove this ambitious and charismatic woman? Was she aware that Juan Peron gave escaped Nazi war criminals (including Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann) safe haven in Argentina after World War II? Did she really care about the “shirtless” workers of her homeland, or did she see them as props to use to help keep her husband in power?
Evita (15th Anniversary Edition) Blu-ray Specifications
- Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH, Spanish
- 50GB Blu-ray Disc
- Single disc (1 BD)
- Region free
- Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
- Blu-ray Released by: Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment
- Blu-ray Release Date: June 19, 2012
- Run Time: 135 minutes