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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2003
Belle Epoque is a beautifully rendered film with a good sense of humor and a well-paced plot. Unlike what a previous reviewer wrote, it is actually set in the years PRECEDING the Spanish Civil War, that is, when a republic was established after the abdication of Alfonso XIII in 1931. The debate between Monarchism and Carlism versus Republicanism and Anarchism -a split in Spanish society that would culminate in the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936- is made accessible as expressed by the colorful characters in this movie: the pampered mollycoddle Juanito, the irreverent priest, the artist-patriarch (who nevertheless lives like a "scared old bourgeois"). The Civil War of the 1936-39 was only the last of the many civil wars that erupted in Spain during the modern era (e.g. the Carlist Wars of the Nineteenth Century). The movie will throw light on this turbulent time as it affected ordinary people, and for those of you not squeamish about the idea of a man sleeping with four beautiful women in the course of a few days, I recommend this movie highly. "Belle Epoque" is NOT fluff or late-night soft porn; it is only disguising its gravity behind a façade of lightheartedness.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 1999
The story line for this film is not anything extraordinary but the actors/actresses weave a wonder web of mayhem and love that pervades through the simple story line to make this a timeless classic. It is also interesting how Trueba uses role reversal to turn the tables on poor Fernando and throws him into a matriarchal setting where the men AREN'T the ones wearing the pants in the family....quite literally in one sense. Overall a great movie that I have seen time and again...Great Castillan spanish accents as well!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 1999
This is one of the finest movies I've ever seen. It is funny, unique, and truly entertaining. Not just for fans of Spanish movies and culture, it will be enjoyed by all who watch it! Add it to your collection, you won't be disappointed (but make sure you avoid the dubbed version).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2001
This film is a sly comment of politics in Spain. It was made just after Juan Carlos freed the country from Franco's fascism. On the surface in may seem plotless, but each young lady is representative of a type of governmet, Fernado is the people of Spain, and Manolo the spirit of progress. Much better if you speak Spanish, but delightful for the Anglophone interested in European politics. A real intellectual treat, not for light viewing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Although this is a Spanish production set during the Spanish Civil War in the thirties, it is a French bedroom farce all the way, and a delightful romp to be sure. Warm and rustic with a light satirical air, "Belle Époque" plays like something from Molière with a touch of Cervantes and a dollop of Shakespeare folded in. Four young women, daughters of Manolo, an ageing Republican artist, played with warmth and a becoming rakishness by Fernando Fernán Gómez, converge one at a time on our very lucky hero (Jorge Sanz) so as to better help him decide which one he really loves. Director Fernando Trueba lets him try all four before a decision is reached. The sex scenes couldn't get by the Vatican, but are so charmingly done that we are delighted. None of your sick, violent Anglo matings here. No rapes, no drugs, no booze, just sweet country coupling all around.
The target of the satire is mostly the Catholic church and the Fascists, but the Republicans take some hits as well. The war is entirely in the background except for a little comédie noire scene at the outset where two stupido Fascists soldiers do themselves in. Our hero's foil is a Jerry Lewis sort of mamma's boy romancing one of the daughters with his inheritance and his mother. He flip-flops between the church and the Republicans trying to please mamma and Clara, his enchantress, second daughter of Manolo. Manolo's foil is the parish priest, a hypocritical libertine, who commits most of the deadly sins before expiring by his own hand when the Republicans win (temporarily) the war.
The title (in English, "The Age of Beauty") is ironic because of the war, but literal as it refers to the time of our youth. Is it not uplifting to recall our loves instead of our wars, to turn our political and religious hatreds into benign satirical jokes, and to see the beauty of our nature and not our bestiality?
The traditional comedy of course ends in marriage, but to whom? I'm betting on the beautiful Penélope Cruz, who was just eighteen when this film was released.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2000
Belle Epoque reminds of a traditional French-style cinema, just like the title itself.
It is a story of basically decent, but very confused young man (incredibly cute one, too), whose only concern is how to survive amidst the chaos of Spanish Civil War.
The film begins with this young man, Fernando, almost being killed, but it ends with him being very much alive and happy. In the process, Fernando meets a lot of new people: an old man, Manolo, and his unconventional family, to say the least. The relationship between Manolo and Fernando takes a special place in the story, along with Fernando's amorous interest in Manolo's daughter(s).
Apart from love and youth, Belle Epoque is also looking at Spain's historical background and hypocritical nature of society during the Great Spanish Civil War.
Overall, Belle Epoque is both visually appealing and very philosophical, at the same time. It is a real masterpiece.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 1999
One of my favourite films - funny and touching at the same time. This film gives an insight into the Spanish psyche, surreal and macho, yet manages to laugh about itself. The protagonists are beautiful and convincing. I chuckled all the way through, and would strongly recommend to see the subtitled version, as the dubbed version loses a lot of the feel of the film - one does not need to speak Spanish to appreciate the language.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2010
drama, mischief and a lucky man who walks in to a situation that some would say, "I was just there at the right time and right place" this adventure of is so incredibly cute funny and sexy,especially to those who have had something similar happen to them. When I was a young man in my teens I had this type of romance silly girls especially growing up in these Hispanic countries women seem to be more open. This movie was great for those that love romance and teenage love. The way the romance is brought on is quite subtle with flirting at every corner and picking up on vibes and attitudes, lol. I laugh cause one scene a girl is totally flirting and the guy goes for it so she plays hard to get and tells him to stay away, but then she pulls him back in and then pushes him away, lol! it is hilarious, because that's the most beautiful playful way romance is, women don't want to let themselves go, but at the same time they want a man to take them there, I wont spoil it for you all, but I do recommend it. It's in Spanish so if you don't speak it, you may lose a little of the meaning I know something is lost in translation when I watch French films, so I have made it my effort to learn French. I think If every man went through what this young lad went through then all men would be happy. I totally recommend it and pay attention to the body movement and the language of gestures and eyes, lol!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2010
*** This review contains spoilers ***

The bulk of 'Belle Epoque' is supposed to be a pastoral romance, a farce of sorts despite being set during the heady eve of the Spanish Civil War in 1931. The film begins inappropriately with our protagonist, Fernando, an army deserter, having just been taken into custody by two officers of the Civil Guard who happen to be father and son-in-law. The father-in-law wants to let Fernando go but the son-in-law, a Nationalist, can't stomach the idea of allowing a 'traitor' to walk free so impulsively he shoots his father-in-law to death but realizing he'll have to face his wife later on and tell her that he's responsible for killing her father, ends up killing himself. Not a very good idea to start off with such an unpleasant scene when most of your story is supposed to be comic in tone.

Fernando arrives in a village and seeks to patronize a prostitute at the local brothel. We find out the local priest has no guilt feelings about playing cards with his buddies inside the brothel. There, Fernando meets one of the priest's fellow card players, Manolo, a retired artist, who invites him to stay at his house. Like most people in the village, Manolo is decidedly pro-Republican and is thoroughly tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Fernando is about to return to Madrid but changes his mind when Manolo's four daughters arrive by train.

Since this is a farce, we're supposed to suspend our disbelief when each of the four daughters falls for the rather passive Fernando with the libertine Manolo encouraging the randy Lothario as he beds each woman.

One of the daughters, Violeta, is an independent woman who works as a veterinarian and also happens to be a lesbian. When the daughters dress Fernando up as a maid for a costume party at a local carnival, Violeta dresses herself up in Fernando's army uniform and then ends up having sex with him inside a barn at the carnival. In a scene more titillating than erotic, Fernando passively lies underneath in his maid's costume as Violeta makes love to him on top. The next day, Fernando informs Manolo of the encounter and he's overjoyed that his daughter now has shown an interest in men. Violeta squelches any possibilities that she has an interest in the opposite sex and makes it clear to her father that in effect the previous night's encounter was simply 'role-playing' and she really has no interest in Fernando.

Despite her great attraction to Fernando, Rocio, another one of Manolo's daughters, has been involved with Juanito, a son of a wealthy Royalist widow, who has difficulty escaping the clutches of his control freak mother. There are some rather unfunny scenes with the mother going after Rocio and Juanito even goes so far as to demand that he be excommunicated from the church by the local priest in order to prove to Rocio he's no longer a mamma's boy. At the same time, Rocio strings Juanito along but eventually realizes that they were made for each other and end up marrying.

Fernando also tries to prove his mettle with Clara, who lost her husband a year before in a drowning accident. The film's scenarists try to extract some humor in a reference to the deceased husband's last meal. Clara mentions that he loved rice and her sister states it was the only dish he knew how to cook. Clara then lamely replies, "I know". Clara becomes so confused over her feelings for Fernando, that she ends up pushing him into the river, in the same spot where her ex-husband drowned. Fernando contracts pneumonia and the daughters then have to attend to him to ensure that he recovers.

The last daughter, Luz (played by Penelope Cruz), is perhaps the least interesting of the four daughters. She's simply childish and is jealous of her three sisters who have already become involved with Fernando. I'm not sure exactly why Fernando ends up with Luz (perhaps he feels sorry for her) but the young couple are seen leaving for America at film's end.

In addition to the sour note of the murder/suicide at the start of the film, there's also another unsavory moment when the priest kills himself after he feels betrayed by his hero, poet/philosopher Miguel de Unamono, who for a short while supported Franco and the Nationalists.

Belle Epoque fails not only for its two brief unnecessary forays into tragedy (the death of the Civil Guards and the Priest suicide) but because the principal characters are decidedly superficial and hence inconsequential. Violeta is basically mean-spirited (recall her unchivalrous tirade after Fernando informs her father of their fling); Rocio is a shallow coquette in regards to her relationship with Juanito, the foolish Clara is disconnected, unable to truly grieve over her lost husband and Luz is simply an immature adolescent. As for Fernando, his behavior with the four daughters speaks for itself!

Only Manolo, the intuitive libertine, comes across as somewhat multi-dimensional character. He's seen as particularly likable when he's willing to accept his opera singer wife's manager who he's quite aware has been involved with her while they've been on tour. Manolo is also a philosopher--I particularly liked when he reads a sensual passage from the 'The Magic Mountain' and concludes with the line: "What youth!".

As a point of comparison, there's a British/Irish film made in 2000 entitled 'About Adam' which has a very similar storyline to Belle Epoque. A young Lothario ingratiates his way into a household consisting mainly of women who have become besotted with him. Both are farcical in tone but 'Adam' manages to exude a slight bit more charm than the specious 'Epoque'.

'Belle' is the perfect kind of mediocre film which you would expect would win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature. It was safe and offended no one which guaranteed all the awards and accolades it managed to garner.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2002
This movie is unequivocably recommended. The themes are mature and the subtitles use the most common of language. Fortunately the subtitles don't translate the most common of those words as often as they're said in this delightful Spanish farce. The movie is meaningless, but very funny and very entertaining with lots to recommend it.
The movie has excellent character development, charming and humorous dialogues, lovely cinematography and an overall attractiveness.
The male lead has led an innocent existence in which he spent some time in a seminary, and then has deserted from the army. Now when he meets the four daughters of a libertine aging artist who has befriended him, he wants to make up for lost time. The older three daughters use him for their forbidden pleasures, and don't take the encounters seriously. Being unsophisticated, he falls in love with each until the next one seduces him. He doesn't realize until almost too late, that the youngest actually loves him, although I can't see what qualities he has except for his looks. Oh, that's right, he cooks better than anyone in the family.
The costume celebration and its aftermath is one of the most hilarious I've seen in a movie regardless of language.
I'm sure there were social messages that without knowledge of Spanish customs and history, were not apparent. There seemed to be a strong association with death. The side story of the young man who is infatuated with the second daughter but can't break away from his mother or tradition, until his frustration causes him to falsely renounce everything his mother stands for, probably symbolizes certain hypocrises in Spain at that point in history as it tried to break away from a moonarchy but couldn't make up its mind.
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