Jorge Sanz stars in this Spanish crowd-pleaser as Fernando, a handsome young deserter fleeing Madrid during the chaos of the Spanish Civil War in the early 1930s. A lapsed seminarian sympathetic to the Republican revolution, Fernando is taken in and befriended by an aging libertine (Fernando Fernán Gómez) whose four comely daughters take their turns seducing their awestruck houseguest. Despite an awkwardly unfunny "comic" murder-suicide in the opening minutes, Belle Époque epitomizes the breezy kind of uninhibited, oversexed, and yet never crass romantic comedy that the European film industry excels at, and which Hollywood often fails to replicate. Director Fernando Trueba and co-writers Rafael Azcona and José Luis García Sánchez hit a steady stride, keeping the movie light on angst, full of playful mischief, and maintaining an irreverent political backdrop that adds just a little social comment to the warm laughs. The greatest assets to Belle Époque, however, are the four knockout actresses picked to tug at Fernando's pliable heart: Miriam Díaz Aroca as the widowed Clara, Maribel Verdú as the fickle Rocío, Ariadna Gil as the tomboyish Violeta, and a teenage Penélope Cruz as an irresistibly pouty innocent shocked at the careless copulation going on around her. Not only did Belle Époque nearly sweep Spain's national Goya awards, it also snagged the 1994 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, capping a good year for Spanish cinema, during which Cruz's breakthrough film, the eccentric comedy Jamón, Jamón, also created a substantial buzz in the international market. Belle Époque looks very nice in Columbia TriStar's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer with 2.0 Dolby Surround audio in Castilian Spanish (there's also an atrocious dubbed English track). Trueba offers insights in a sedate but interesting English commentary track. Trailers (for other movies only), keep-case.
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