Tuesday, February 21, 2017

1982 Winner, Begin the Beguine

Begin the Beguine

Director:  José Luis Garci

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox International Classics

Released:  March 1982

Country:  Spain

When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green
I'm with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra's playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine

The 1935 Cole Porter standard “Begin the Beguine” is about lost love and the bittersweet feeling its remembrance brings.  It’s a pretty song that itself evokes a sadness about love that is gone while simultaneously bringing a gratefulness for having had the love in the first place. (The video below is a nice version by Pete Townshend off his 1983 Another Scoop album.)  And you better damn well love this song if you are going to watch Begin the Beguine, because you sure are going to hear it plenty (with a healthy dose of “Pachelbel’s Canon” as well).

Elena and Antonio
The movie is a bit more specific than the song.  World-famous poet, Antonio Albajara, who had fled Spain in the 30’s for political reasons, returns home a bigshot for having won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  But he isn't coming home to show off or anything like that—it’s because Antonio has been diagnosed with an unnamed terminal illness and has only months to live.  It seems Antonio, who now teaches at Cal-Berkley and has been married with children for many years, had left behind in Spain many friends, soccer teammates, and of course the love of his life, Elena.

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part
What moments divine, what rapture serene
'Til clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean

It’s clear when Antonio and Elena reunite, they feel both the joy of having been reunited as well as a pain at having been apart for so long.  It is as if they had never spent a minute apart, their comfort with each other being palpable.   But this is not just a sappy love story—there is humor and enjoyment as we watch Antonio hang out with his old friends, and his interactions with an amusing hotel manager break up the melodrama.  But the melodrama is the main thing, and though he shares his secret with only one friend, the idea of Antonio’s terminal illness is always present, just below the surface.  We are left to wonder whether it was a wise idea to rouse up all these feelings at this point in Antonio’s life.

So don't let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

Begin the Beguine is a rather predictable movie, but I didn’t find that to be a problem, really.  Both Antonio and Elena’s characters are likeable and straightforward, perhaps to give those watching the chance to relate.  One could complain that it would have been nice for the filmmaker to have mixed in another tune or two in to break things up, but the repeated playing of the same music underscores the power a song has to bring us back to a past love.

O yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
Till the stars that were there before return above you
Till you whisper to me once more: "Darling, I love you!"
And we suddenly know what heaven we're in
When they begin the beguine

The Title:  Volver a Empezar.  The movie was also known as To Begin Again.

The Culture:  The film is set in northern Spain in the city of Gijon on the Bay of Biscay.  The photography is appealing, with lots of shots of coastal Spain and small town quaintness.  Antonio is a Spaniard at heart, even if Americanized, and in his return home, he embraces his culture with nostalgia and fondness.

Where can I find a copy of this movie, Clyde?
Agenda danger:  The Spanish Civil War drove Antonio from Spain, and we see him in the final moments of the film back at Berkley where he sought freedom to speak.  That was back when Berkley welcomed free speech.

Best Picture that year:  Gandhi.

Rating:  Call for the revocation of my Man Card if you want, I liked this film a lot.  Again, it was predictable and blatantly melodramatic, but I couldn’t help but like watching the two old lovers/friends enjoy their finite time together in lovely Spain.  I admit I did feel the need to watch something like Dirty Harry to clear my palette.    

Note:  This one was extremely difficult to find; I recommend streaming on a free site and then quitting membership before you are charged. 

No comments:

Post a Comment