The Tim Rice (lyrics)-Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) opera came to the screen in 1996, starring Madonna as Eva Peron, Antonio Banderas as Che (a kind of representative of the audience/narrator), Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron, and Jimmy Nail as Agustin Magaldi. I had never seen it and was curious, so got it from Netflix.
It’s really kind of fabulous. Shot on location in Argentina and Hungary, and at Shepperton Studios near London, this is a big, BIG musical opus; truly an opera because there was only one spoken line, at least as far as I remember. And as I always seem to be saying, I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy, but with this level of emotion it’s hard to care.
The beginning: 1952 – Buenos Aires – The manager of a movie theater stops the projector. There are catcalls and whistles. Everyone is upset and angry. The manager takes the apron of the little stage and announces, “Eva Peron, the spiritual leader of this nation, entered immortality at 8:25 this evening.” Everyone starts crying, men and women alike, many sobbing loudly, except for Che, who is sitting in the audience, reflective, but dry-eyed. And everybody but Che leaves – the outcome of the film they were watching is no longer important.
The movie then starts again at the funeral of Eva’s father, a man who had maintained two families, but only one with legality. Eva, her siblings, and their mother are barred from the funeral by the legal wife, though Eva rushes past the men who have accompanied the widow outside the church, and clings to the casket crying. She is picked up and carried from the church. As she grows up she becomes a beautiful young girl and attaches herself to a touring entertainer, Magaldi, who takes her to Buenos Aires. Her climb from down to up (and up) is the next chunk of the film. Meeting and marrying Peron is the next chapter, and their political journey is a large part of that.
The songs (arias?) are wonderful. We all know “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”, but there are many other melodies to hum or whistle after seeing the film: “On this Night of a Thousand Stars”, Magaldi’s signature tune; “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”, sung by Eva to Juan; “A New Argentina”; “High Flying, Adored”, Che’s number on Eva’s acceptance by the people (and my favorite from the show); and “Rainbow High” and “You Must Love Me”, two songs for Eva. Webber and Rice wrote “You Must Love Me” especially for the movie. By the end of the film when “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” is reprised, I defy you to be completely dry-eyed.
The performances by the four principals are all award-worthy (but I was particularly impressed by Banderas, who has a fantastic singing voice), as are the direction by Alan Parker, and the screenplay by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone, and all the work from the technical contributors. But despite scads of nominations from virtually every awarding body there is, for virtually everybody who worked on the film (except for the huge omission of Jonathan Pryce), the only wins were Oscar for Best Song to “You Must Love Me”, Golden Globes for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for Madonna, and Best Song for “You Must Love Me”, and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Song to “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”. Seeing the movie today makes this seem very unjust.