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Belle Epoque

This Oscar-winning Spanish movie is just damn too light. It's the kind of movie where you walk out of the theatre and say to yourself "Now what do I do." The story is set in the early 1930s and has political and religious undercurrents - but the treatment is so frivolous that the audience are assured by the director that they don't have to be worried or joyed if a dialogue regarding the church or republic offends or defends their views.

The story is about four beautiful women chasing an young vulnerable soldier. Well, it's not much of a chase for any of the ladies as the young man positions himself at vantage locations. The movie begins with a crazy joke - Fernando, a young soldier has deserted his camp and he walks himself into a couple of police officers. (And I can't think of a police officer who has played an intelligent role if the story is set in the first half of the century.) With their lazy movements and fickle demeanor, they end up killing each other over a silly rule of law. The execution of this scene is so dramatic that it sets the tone for what is about to unfold later.

Four daughters visit their father for their summer break in a villa where Fernando has assumed the role of a cook. Since the youngest of the ladies is a virgin, she is constantly pushed out of sexual gossips. The first three ladies have a strong crush and make advances that result in 'consummation' - just to use an archaic word. And after every night spent with a lady, Fernando feels obligated to talk to the father to ask the daughter's hand. The daughter's don't want to show themselves off as sex-hungry beasts but at the same time don't even entertain the thought of a long-term relationship.

The books and movies and cultural stories that were part of my up bringing taught me the exact opposite: it's the women who wanted a stable relationship and the men just wanted to fling and fly away. Fernando, with his puppy-like face feels betrayed when the women use him. Finally, the virgin of the house (played by a young Penelope Cruz) matches his innocence and longing for something more than sensual. What's astonishing is the sexual freedom of the era this picture paints. In a scene that is 100% intended to be funny a husband says to another man who has been dating his wife that he'll be done very quickly with his wife, almost like asking his permission without offending his sensibilities.

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