“Living is easy with eyes closed / misunderstanding all you see /
it’s getting hard to be someone; but it all works out.”
– “Strawberry Fields Forever”
by Ken B.
I suppose on the forefront it sounds rather obvious to say, but David Trueba’s Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is a film that I increasingly liked as it went on. However, in this particular context, it’s a bit of a rarity – normally in films that feature a very limited number of characters throughout nearly all of their runtime, the walls close in and it becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy it. Here, the opposite occurs – as the 109 minutes advance, the subtler pleasures of the three individuals onscreen become more and more apparent, and the formerly quiet, shallower movie becomes something deeper and more meaningful, as the barriers of their small talk at the start come apart and reveal a set of truths which runs in throughout them and emerges as an excellent story.
Set in 1966, among the closing years of Francoist Spain, Trueba starts with Antonio (Javier Cámara), a nebbish fortysomething bachelor and teacher of English and Latin. A massive fan of John Lennon, in the opening scene, Antonio has one of his English classes study the language by analyzing the lyrics of “Help!”. He learns that Lennon will be in Spain to shoot a film – albeit, halfway down the country, in the southern coastal town of Almería. Antonio, with the intention of meeting Lennon and asking him to a) stay with the Beatles as rumors of internal problems with the band grow and b) print song lyrics on albums for easier interpretation and translation, gets in his small green car and travels hundreds of miles, but not alone – he picks up two hitchhikers, sixteen-year-old semi-runaway Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) and Belén (Natalia de Molina), a few years older and very cautious about discussing her background. The three of them are total strangers at the start of the trip, with Juanjo and Belén joining Antonio not as much to meet Lennon but to escape their own lives, fulfilling the urge to go somewhere. The objective of the venture remains, but as the nuances of their personalities come forward, great things begin to happen.
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed swept the Goyas, Spain’s bluntly named equivalent of the Academy Awards. It was the country’s official submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s ceremony. And much like another country’s submission that I was enthusiastic about, was entirely ignored. This is a movie that can be difficult to appreciate – it’s quiet, laid back, and is more in the vein of allowing events to happen than making them happen. In a way, that makes the film feel more natural and spontaneous, but also serves as a high impediment for admirers of wit-driven, mile-a-minute screenplays. For a good chunk of the time, Trueba is predisposed to simply what happens while our main characters are driving, as establishing shots reveal that Antonio’s pale green clunker is one of the few manmade objects at times, with its artificial colors sticking out against the hills and rocks of the dusty roads. Even when they arrive in Almería where further supporting roles are introduced, the small-world feeling remains.
Another thing that makes Living is Easy with Eyes Closed much more than the ephemeral road trip dramedy it could have been is the strength of the performances, particularly that of Javier Cámara as Antonio. His overoptimistic assertion that he will be able to bypass security and have a one-on-one with Lennon because he isn’t a screaming prepubescent girl seems to be a bit of an odd thought at first, but sooner or later you realize that this is more indicative of his personality as a whole and its evolution throughout the film, as his attempts at rationality and level-headedness override his more eccentric and impulsive qualities (although sometimes the latter slips through to great effect). His young companions are equally interesting. Francesc Colomer’s Juanjo has an overriding youth rebellion accompanied by a quieter artistic bent, implicitly denied by his corporal punishment enthusiastic father (Jorge Sanz), and Natalia de Molina’s Belén has a rough, largely unstated history which transformers her assured but vaguely mysterious present. The trio needs and interacts with each other in different ways, whether together or just two, and combined they are a joy to watch.
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is a movie of great humanity and simplicity, yet this is not done at the exchange of emotional meaning or character development. It is certainly fantastical to an extent, as these three strangers find solace and growth within each other after happening to cross paths, but the down-to-earth writing and direction is still massively enjoyable. It is acted sublimely and shot with the same care. Here is a film of subtleties rather than exposition, wrapped in a non-intrusive sense of nostalgia. And as it builds to a satisfying, back-and-forth finale, as the trip draws to a close and its participants go their separate ways, Trueba is able to convey perfectly indirectly how these characters’ lives have been changed by this journey, a lengthy travel which for one of them was specifically set, and for the other two not as much, but deeply affecting all the same.