The official Oscar submission from Argentina, “Eva Peron” gets points for a fine performance from Esther Goris and a script that situates Evita on a human rather than mythic plane. But all those pluses are undone by woeful direction and languid pacing. Very much a curiosity piece, pic is unlikely to attract more than modest interest in selected situations as it attempts to capitalize on the potential popularity of the high-profile movie musical.
The film struggles to overcome the familiarity of its story. Eva Duarte was the illegitimate child of a seamstress who was born in 1919 in a rural village. At age 15 she escaped to Buenos Aires on the arm of a second-rate singer to find fame and fortune as an actress. She used her charms and wiles to gain roles and achieve a degree of stardom.
But her finest performance was as the “Mother of Argentina,” as wife of President Juan Peron (Victor Laplace). The popular army officer was a government minister when he met Eva in 1944. He was an unlikely candidate to lead his country, but the “woman behind the man” reshaped his image in populist terms that would sweep him into power two years later.
The film opens in 1951, when the Perons’ approval rating was at its highest. Eva has let it be known that she now wants official recognition of her role — she campaigns to be the vice presidential candidate. Both the political and the military elite find her action distasteful.
From that vantage point, the story snakes about from the funeral of her biological father in 1926 through her premature death from uterine cancer in 1953. Jose Pablo Feinmann’s script focuses the tale on the woman’s lifelong quest for “legitimacy.” Evita’s efforts to improve the lot of the working class are incontestable. She supported labor unions, spearheaded the nation’s charities, fought to improve schools and literacy and successfully campaigned for female suffrage. But her populism was not unequivocal; at a rally with rail workers she berates the group for anti-Peronist activities.
What largely holds the piece together is a fierce, passionate performance from Goris. She makes palpable the character’s contempt for the country’s gentry and imbues Eva with a take-no-prisoners attitude that rings true. Laplace is very good as a leader capable of controlling those who believe they hold the strings.
But pic is marred by mediocre filmmaking. Director Juan Carlos Desanzo has reduced the drama’s impact by effecting the most obvious and antiquated of soap opera cliches. His choice and use of music is particularly stale, rising to a cliched crescendo or sinking to reflect a mood in a manner rarely employed since silent movies.
There is a hollowness to the surroundings that cannot be explained away on the basis of economy of means, and the locations employed here seem inauthentic. For a woman who feared her legacy would be forgotten upon her death, Eva Duarte Peron would be awed by her ascendancy into popular iconography. But if it were not for the current “Evita” mania — which comprises a couple of documentaries; several new books, including “In My Own Words,” attributed to the subject; and the screen Madonnazation — this alternative movie version would be no more than a cinema footnote.