Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Belle Époque

(Spain, US, UK, 1992)

The title does not refer to the French period from 1871 to 1914, as it is commonly used. This is Spain in 1933, a period I don’t know much about. What is important is that it is just a few years before the horrible Spanish Civil War, when Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who is still dead, by the way) began his authoritarian, fascist rule. But the early ‘30s were a time of hope, as the Republicans and Traditionalists battled it out, mostly peacefully, before the formation of the democratic Spanish Second Republic.

It is a gently funny story. Fernando (Jorge Sanz), a young soldier, deserts and ends up staying in the large country house of Republican Manolo (Fernando Fernán Gómez, in a wonderful performance), a man who has four totally gorgeous daughters. The only one you are probably familiar with is eighteen-year-old Penélope Cruz, in only her second film role as the hot-tempered Luz, the youngest. In a series of comic circumstances, Manolo falls in love and goes to bed with each of the daughters, including the lesbian Violeta, who can only make love to him when he is dressed as a woman! It is all a lot of fun, made bittersweet by our knowledge of what is just down the road, the long dark night of the Spanish soul until 1975, the restoration of a constitutional monarchy under Juan Carlos.