Film & DVD Review: Evita

Directed by Alan Parker and starring Madonna

Reviewed by Cliff Morrison

Evita DVD cover

Click on image to buy DVD

Eva Duarte first appears as a small-town poor, illegitimate and determined child snubbed at her wealthy father’s funeral. Years later, a “star” singer from Buenos Aires comes to town, and lays the country girl looking for good-times ticket to the the big city. Jimmy Nail plays the part well enough, but his character seems a little too seedy and has-been to be completely convincing.

Dumped in the capital by her reluctant paramour, Eva sleeps her way to the top — the bed of General Peron, one of the military junta who have taken charge of the ailing country.

So far, so good. But this film has no dialogue as such, it relies on newsreel clips and newspaper headlines to bridge the gaps in the musical story. This is where it falls down; not having seen the stage version, I did not realise that the link-man who appears from the background to comment sceptically throughout the film is meant to be the revolutionary wallpaper hero Che Guevara. There is no indication of his identity during the film — he is clean-shaven and in civilian clothes. The frontage of a large building is blown up a couple of times but it isn’t particularly clear that this is the office of a major newspaper — or who has done it, or why.

Juan Peron is played as rather a weak and indecisive figure, too much so to be really credible. Though Eva (by now Evita) is the central character, the wimpish persona of Peron contradicts the fact that he did restore foreign-held Argentinian assets to national ownership; it also diminishes the portrayal of strength and charisma in Eva herself. She must have had plenty of both, to exert such influence in real life.

The film’s music is adequate, not outstanding; the vocals lacked the quality of the earlier (British) versions. Madonna is not a very good actress, she seems a bit wooden and shallow. Her singing is pleasant enough, but ultimately she just lacks the “class” and allure to be Evita.

“Evita” only claims to be a musical, not a historical record. It mangles history to a lesser extent than many of Hollywood’s offerings; in that respect, with Spielberg and Gibson on the loose, it would be unfair to judge this film too harshly.

People all over the world are taking in images and details from the entertainment media, and the realities of history get obscured as a result; the “it was on the TV so it happened like that” syndrome is worrying. It can operate at subconscious level — most effective propaganda does. I’m not saying the distortion is necessarily there for ulterior motives — although it may be, and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is the definitive example. “Who controls the past, controls the future” is very true; and one could ask why Menem, the President and leader of Argentina’s Peronist Party, cooperated in the making of a film which detracts from the image of his party’s founder. I do recall that at the time of its first coming to office Menem’s outfit were referred to as “the Coca-Cola party”….

It is sad that many of Evita’s city scenes with the attractive, classical buildings had to be filmed in eastern Europe, since the ubiquitous property speculators and redevelopers had in the meantime “improved” and modernised Buenos Aires, once regarded as a beautiful city.

I saw the film in London, and some of the audience cried at the end when Evita dies. Would I recommend it? Well, it isn’t boring, and for a musical it is thankfully free of the usual song and dance extravaganza cliches. So, reservedly, yes.

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