"Evita" is the ambitious film version of the
Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, based on
the life of Eva Peron, First Lady of Argentina.
"Evita" is an Opera, a sardonic character study,
a history lesson, a tear jerker, and a Madonna
vehicle, all at once. And it is a little better
than the decidedly mixed reviews that it has
Eva's life is shown from its humble beginnings
as a poor, illegitimate peasant girl living in
the countryside. She latches onto travelling
musician Agustin Magaldi (Jimmy Nail), who takes
her to Buenos Aires, and promptly dumps her
to return to his wife. Eva has better luck with
a series of lovers, each of whom plays a role
towards making her a radio and film celebrity,
and each is discarded as his usefulness to her
Eva finally settles for Juan Peron, a colonel
close to power. As the wife of a dictator, she
is able to pursue her social agenda: a transfer
of wealth from the snob elite to the "shirtless"
masses whose worship she craves. But as her
political power and fame increase, her health
begins to fail...
With "Evita", Madonna has finally found a female
lead role that suits her talents. She can only
hope that future Rice/Weber projects will involve
Princess Diana and Hillary Clinton. Madonna does
not have a great voice, but she has a screen
presence and is able to put a lot of emotion into
Perhaps the real star of "Evita", however, is
Antonio Banderas. He shows up in most of the scenes,
alternately commiserating with and condemning the
actions of Eva. Part narrator and part audience,
his character is curious but necessary to explain
the plot to Americans oblivious to Argentine history.
As a history lesson, "Evita" seems credible. Eva
and Juan are neither glorified nor villified. The
real power seems to be held by the right-wing military,
who will tolerate the Eva Peron show only as long as
it serves their purposes of political stability.
I suppose someone knowledgeable with Eva Peron could
pick the film apart, but a quick fact check on the
web seemed to verify the film's integrity. One minor
discrepancy: in the film, Eva apparently has leukemia,
while the real-life Eva had uterine cancer.
Musicals haven't been a major force in cinema since
the 1960s, and are now mostly relegated to children's
fare: animated films and Muppet movies. An ambitious,
big budget musical is risky for a studio, and it is good
to see that the genre has not been forgotten. Perhaps
"Evita" becomes overly funereal in the final third
of the film, but it is interesting and has surprising
content for a Lloyd Webber/Rice musical.
Copyright © 1996 Brian Koller