Belle Epoque (1992) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs enthusiastically raised for this life-embracing Spanish film!

Tuna's comments in white.

Belle époque  has been compared to Sirens, which was released the same year, in that they are both joyous celebrations of lust. While Belle époque has far less nudity than Sirens, it has far more humor, and is just plain fun. The film is based on Fernando Trueba's relationship with his own father-in-law.

In 1931 young Fernando, Jorge Sanz, deserts from the army, and ends up in a small town staying with painter Manolo,  Fernando Fernán Gómez. Manolo has always wanted a son, Fernando can cook, and the two agree on politics. Then Manolo's four daughters come for a visit, and Manolo tries to send Fernando to Madrid, but after seeing the daughters, Fernando somehow misses his train. Manolo says, "I knew this would happen when he got a whiff of my girls' pussies."

The four girls couldn't possibly be much different. Penélope Cruz, the youngest, is ripe and virginal and eager. Maribel Verdú is engaged to the richest boy in town, but can't tolerate his mother. Miriam Diaz-Aroca is widowed, but misses having a man in her bed and between her legs. Ariadna Gil is gay. Fernando ends up having sex, and falling deeply in love with, each of the four in turn. First Gil dresses him in a maids outfit for a fiesta, and goes as a soldier, then seduces him in a hay loft after the dance. Second, he comforts Verdú after a fight with her fiancee. Third, he walks along the river with Aroca, where her husband drowned during a picnic, and the two end up in the river, and then, it is inferred, in the sack. Finally, he ends up with Cruz, who marries him, but not before trying him on.

Manolo has an open-minded priest friend who won't oppose his liberal views, a wife he can't cheat on, and the military wouldn't take him, so he is cursed with being a happy man. There is lots of liberal politics, as well as satire about early revolution politics during this short "belle époque" between the monarchy and Franco Fascism.


Ariadna Gil shows breasts during the sex scene in poor light, and both Maribel Verdú and Penélope Cruz have pokies and underwear shots.

Cruz also delivers an upskirt when getting out of bed.

Roger Ebert makes a great point:

"Like the otherwise dissimilar "Sirens," from around the world in Australia, "Belle Epoque" celebrates sensuality and the human body. It is a reminder that sex can be kind and gentle, tender and beautiful. American films link "sex and violence" so compulsively that we can hardly imagine an attractive woman who isn't hiding an icepick behind her back... Seeing this film and "Sirens" in the same season, I was reminded that the movies once considered eroticism an end in itself, and not simply the prelude to a slasher scene."

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • no features

Amen, Roger. I adored this film. There are no deep truths, no serious conflicts, very little violence -- and that played for comedy. What it does have is a great collection of characters, all well-developed and well-acted, and a wonderful ambience partly do to the story, and partly due to the art direction and cinematography.  
Scoop's notes in yellow:

The thing I admire most about the filmmakers of Spain is that they seem to have the ability to invoke a highly developed aesthetic sensibility without descending either into maudlin sentimentality or pretentious, arty bullshit. They just work the art into the story. Francisco Trueba, the director of La Belle Epoque, is a perfect example. One of his other films, The Girl of your Dreams, is one of the most consciously styled films I've ever seen, practically a 1930's stylistic wet dream, yet it uses the art only to support the characters, and never allows the aesthetics to overpower the humanity of the story.

This movie, Belle Epoque, is not as stylized, but is uses a consistent green and gold palette, and is just as effective as The Girl of your Dreams in blending the aesthetics with the storyline. Similar in joyful hedonism to "Sirens" and  "Stealing Beauty", it is an ode to a special hopeful time in Spain, the brief Republican dream that stirred the imagination of the entire world in between the death of the Spanish monarchy and the rise of the fascists.

"La Belle Epoque" means "The Beautiful Age", and usually refers to the peaceful time of artistic flowering which took place in France at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the period in which the modern world of art began. Spain's Belle Epoque was a shorter one. The republic lasted only from 1931 until 1939, but it gave Spanish intellectuals hope that the old bastions of repression, the Church and the monarchy, would finally lose their joint death-grips on Spanish thought. During that period, many celebrated their ability to cast off the repression, to think as they chose, to embrace sensual lives, to choose agnosticism, and to speak their convictions freely in public. This film uses one large, intellectual, free-thinking Spanish family to show how the new attitudes in Spain affected various lives.

Jorge Sanz plays a deserter who ends up in the countryside home of an elderly painter. When the old man's four daughters arrive, they all compete for the attentions of the handsome and eligible stranger. In a sense, they all succeed. Even the lesbian! The best part of the lesbian episode is that the director actually found a way to make that sexual encounter believable, by letting it occur during a masquerade party in which the lesbian is attracted to the man because he is quite an attractive woman in his costume. The lesbian sister dances the tango with him, she dressed as a soldier, he as a maid, her leading of course. Then, aroused by her command of the situation, she forces him to get on his back, and mounts him.

This film is a pure pleasure to watch from start to finish. It made me feel good while I watched it, and for hours afterwards. American filmmakers seem to have to choose between humanity and art, and their films seem to have one or the other, never both. The most "artistic" films of America seem to renounce life, not celebrate it. They could learn a lot from this film, and from director Fernando Trueba.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4,

  • he film won Best picture Goya, Best foreign Language Oscar and BAFTA, and seven other Goya's.


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: it was quite successful in the major Spanish-speaking markets. 1.8 million admissions in Spain, about a million in Argentina. Spain only has about 20 million adults, so nearly 10 percent of them saw the movie. That would be about as popular as a $100 million hit in the USA.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. (Both reviewers)

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