When his new film, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, practically swept the 2014 Goyas, Spain's equivalent to the Oscars, writer/director David Trueba was taken aback. What he thought was just another sincere entry in his 20-year career of filmmaking made off with wins for Best Actor (Javier Cámara), Best New Actress (Natalia de Molina), Best Original Score (Pat Metheny), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film.
Speaking over the phone from his room at the Coral Gables' Biltmore Hotel, Trueba said it was never his intention to make an awards-bait sort of film. "I always prefer not to think about awards or audiences when I am preparing the film," he says. "I'm just relating to the material and trying to be faithful to what you want to say and the way you want to say it ... I'm not a big, calculating kind of director, thinking this film is going to play better or this film is going to please audiences or have awards or whatever."
Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, whose title Trueba borrowed from the opening lyrics of The Beatles' song "Strawberry Fields Forever," comes across as a low-key movie that happens to resonate as both a coming-of-age story, a tribute to John Lennon and a study of Spain under the oppressive shadow of the Franco regime during the culturally revolutionary 1960s. It follows a school teacher (Cámara) who employs Beatles lyrics to teach students English. He takes an opportunity of a short vacation to try to meet John Lennon, who is in Almeria shooting Richard Lester's How I Won the War. On his way to crash the set uninvited, but with sincere intentions to have Lennon explain some lyrics he can't understand, he picks up a young pregnant woman (de Molina) hitchhiking to her mother's house and a young boy (Francesc Colomer) who ran away from home because he refused to cut his long hair.
The story is inspired by the true story of the teacher Juan Carrion, who met Lennon in Almeria and inspired the band to henceforth include lyrics on Beatles records. For the film, Trueba changes Carrion's name to Antonio and does not necessarily concern himself with following the facts. "I'm not a big fan of biopics or all these films that are in fashion right now, so I didn't want to make this a story about the teacher," the filmmaker explains. "I wanted to make a more universal film, relating to all the teachers that were like that or parents that were like that with people who were in the same kind of fight against society at that time in Spain."
Though he did not want to make the film about Carrion, Trueba decided to look up the now 90-year-old Carrion for consultation. "I met him after writing the first [draft] of the script, and I was surprised how many similarities this man has with my ideals. We became friends," the director says.
Meeting Carrion reassured Trueba he was on the right track on many levels. Hardcore Beatles fans who know the rollercoaster dynamic of the band, which ended with the its dissolution in 1970, will recognize that Lennon's flirtation with acting in 1966 came at a time when he already had doubts of continuing as pop star. His meeting with Carrion not only resulted in lyric sheets in records but also gave Lennon a new perspective on the value of the band's music. Trueba says Carrion "was just explaining to Lennon it was very useful to have the lyrics of the records on the albums, and Lennon was surprised because he wasn't a very good student. He never thought of Beatles albums as academic material."
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But this all alludes to realizing factoids, for the director. He wants Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed to be understood as more than that, considering Spain's long-suffering oppression under Franco. "What attracted me, more than the anecdote, was this teacher as a character with a Don Quixote spirit, to bring the young students to his cause and it was a good metaphor for our time in Spain," notes Trueba. "I always say the Beatles invented a new type of class struggle, changing the war between rich and poor to the war between young and old people, and that was something that started to work on my head as I started to grasp the essence of the film."
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.