Monday, September 14, 2015

TIFF 2015: Eva Doesn't Sleep

Eva Doesn't Sleep (Argentina, 2015) directed by Pablo Agüero, Scotiabank, 4.15p 85 minutes

Reviewing this film is problematic if you do not have a sense of Argentina's troubled history and the obsessive nature of the populace's devotion to First Lady Eva Peron (nee Duarte) - also known affectionately as Evita Perón. I knew very little of the history so have had to rely on a bit of post-screening research to understand the context.

Evita was the wife of the fascist-leaning Colonel Juan Perón, a member of the military group that orchestrated the 1943 coup that overthrew the civilian government of Argentina and became its President.

Eva Perón died of cancer at the age of thirty-three in 1952 (how like her to die at the same age as Christ sneers one of her detractors in the film). Her body was embalmed by the same man who embalmed Lenin (the director revealed this after the screening). There is a haunting scene of a beautiful woman floating in formaldehyde and another of a child peering at Evita through the lid of her coffin.

This might give you a sense of the importance of the event to Argentinians. Millions mourned her early death and Agüero has the archival footage to demonstrate it - waves and waves of the descamisados (the shirtless ones), the working poor, the indigent and the well-heeled who flocked to her funeral.

In 1955, Perón's government was overthrown by a military coup. Juan Perón fled the country but was unable to make arrangements for the transport of Evita's body.The military junta that had assumed control also seized the corpse of Evita. The body came to have such an intense symbolic and religious value to the country that they sent the corpse out of the country to Europe. The junta was so afraid of Eva's symbolic power that they even made it illegal to utter her name.

Agüero creates surreal, fictional scenarios surrounding true events - the veneration of the body by thepoor (a young cleaning woman who wishes to see the corpse in the beautifully candle-lit cathedral); the transportation of the body by the military by a frightening military man/driver (Denis Lavant) who struggles with a young recruit to keep the transaction secret; a general rumoured to have been kidnapped then interrogated by young Perónists in the 1960s about where Evita's body is truly buried (when he cannot reveal the information he is murdered).

The general tells a fantastic story to the Perónist revolutionaries who kidnap him - is it true, who knows? - that the body was shipped to Milan, buried by a nun who was unaware of Evita's true identity in an unmarked grave.

Gael García Bernal has a very brief appearance n the film (really just a red herring to entice Bernal admiring viewers such as myself as the role is so minimal) as Admiral Emilio Massera who was responsible for orchestrating Argentina's Dirty War (Guerra Sucia) waged from 1976-1983 by the military dictatorship of the time against suspected left-wing political opponents. The Admiral was responsible for burying the body of Evita under six metres of cement when the body was returned to Argentina in the 1970s. He demonstrates the obsessiveness, perverse sexual interest and misogyny that she elicited and, still to this day ... the power.

A more detailed history of the travails of Evita's body may be read here.

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