Madonna's long but satisfying music video
Directed by Alan Parker.
Starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, and Jimmy Nail.
Written by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone (based on the play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice).By Yaron Koren
Afilm version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Evita is set in the 1940s and '50s and details the epic rise to power of Eva Perón (Madonna) from peasant girl to wife of the president of Argentina, Juan Perón, and the "spiritual leader" of her nation, all the way to her death at the untimely age of 33. Despite its panoramic scope, there are only four named characters, and of these only three are central to the plot - Evita, Juan Perón (Jonathan Pryce), and Ché (Antonio Banderas), the cynical narrator. All deliver solid performances and wring out personality from a production that is otherwise manipulative and obvious.
This is one of few musicals in which all the dialogue is sung. (Jesus Christ Superstar, also by Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber, is another that comes to mind.) The music is an integral part of the movie, and is brilliant. Lloyd Webber's score is an engaging mix of pounding Latin American rhythms and 70s-style arena rock and carries the movie along sharply. The screenplay and direction also do a good job of bringing the songs out from a stage setting into the streets and palaces of Argentina. (Although the singing, it should be pointed out, is marred at times by some painfully obvious lip synching).
Madonna is an impressive force on the big screen. Say what you will about her alleged lack of talent, she proves competent in the title role. She is undoubtedly a phenomenal singer and grabs attention even in the large group scenes. She has enough sophistication to pull off scenes like when she first meets Juan Perón, in which she plays equal parts conniving and utterly disarming. Is she a great actress? Not really. She goes through much of the movie, especially the latter part, with a single expression on her face, one suggesting glory in the face of great obstacles. Granted, great acting is difficult while belting out a song, but the expression proves tiring after a while.
Banderas is the real treasure in the film as Ché, the narrator who is convinced that Eva Perón accomplished nothing in her life except satisfying her own inflated ego. He has enough charisma and earthy appeal to succeed in a role that, because of its frequency of occurrence, could have easily become annoying in lesser hands.
Credit must be given to director Alan Parker, who understands that a younger generation expects a musical that looks like a music video. The film is shot almost entirely in a soft, gauzy light, and the cinematography is indeed beautiful. Quick cuts and dissolves abound, and of course every climactic montage must include at least one flashback to the scene where a young Evita is not allowed to enter her father's funeral, presumably the defining moment in her life.
What we don't get from the movie is any sense of what Evita is really thinking or an explanation of what causes her overarching ambition. Lost is also any deeper exploration of the question that is so facilely restated throughout the movie: Is Evita a saint or a whore? And forget about an examination of the forces behind Argentinian politics at mid-century. This is a giant, eye- and ear-pleasing concoction that makes up in operatic spectacle and bravado what it lacks in humanity. "You must love me," sings Madonna, and she does so not as a plea but as a statement of fact.
In a sense, Evita as a movie defies review because conventional narrative structures and characterization aren't what this film is about. Rather, the point is the spectacle itself, the larger-than-life emotions and motivations, the stirring crowd scenes full of sound and fury. And, of course, that wonderful music.