filmhead.gif (6498 bytes)

Belle Époque B+, A-

Spain/1992/Yellow English Subtitles /Color/Widescreen 2.35:1/Stereo Surround/109 minutes/Directed by Fernando Trueba/Starring Jorge Sanz, Fernando Fernan-Gomez/Col-Tristar/52 Chaps/CLV/$34.95

Belle Époque is a very playful film. Director Fernando Trueba has a droll and irreverent sense of humor. The sexual shenanigans at the heart of the film unfolds at a relaxed yet lively pace. Fernando, played with innocent charm by Jorge Sanz, a Spanish Civil War deserter on the run, finds himself adrift in a sea of female delight, as he inadvertently winds up sharing a bed with Manolo, a ribald country artist. When Manolo’s four daughters arrive on the train which Fernando is about to depart on, he immediately decides to return to the artist’s home for additional hospitality. Before we see a train again, Fernando gets to sexually sample each of the delightful daughters, all in the carefree spirit of the film.

The players are very appealing. Each of the four daughters has a very different look and different appeal as well. Trueba’s casting is outstanding. Fernando Fernan-Gomez is sage and worldly as the aging artist Manolo. Mary Carman Ramirez is an inspiration as Amalia, his wandering diva wife and Michel Galabru as Amalia’s lovesick opera impresario is hilarious. The scene in which Amalia returns from abroad and announces her arrival with an aria is well worth the price of the disc alone and is reminiscent of the madcap comedy of the Marx Brothers.

The music by Antoine Duhamel is extremely important. With a touch of Ravel’s "Bolero," the opening lyrical musical strands are used to set the light-hearted and romantic mood, juxtaposed against the black comedy of murder and suicide. The music cues the audience to laugh when taking the scene seriously could have been disastrous for the film.

The first time I saw Belle Époque was at Sony’s screening room some months before it opened. It looked merely okay.The second time, in a theater, was just prior to its release. Again, the print looked all right, but it didn’t look like the photography was particularly good. What a revelation to view the laser disc and discover that Trueba has made a beautiful looking film. Perhaps a superior print was found for the transfer, but believe me, the difference was amazing. Hail laser. Long live laser. This is a very fine looking disc with lively colors and little grain evident. It is always sharp and the contrast levels are excellent. The music and sense of ambiance are well handled on the sound track. Belle Époque is an enjoyable experience on all counts.