A depoliticised, Hollywood flop

Wednesday, March 12, 1997 - 11:00

Evita
Directed by Alan Parker
Starring Madonna, Antonio Banderos and Jonathon Price
Now showing in all major cinemas

Review by Paul Howes

Evita, based on a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is another Hollywood flop. There is really nothing special (as entertainment) about it. In the title role, Madonna's acting fails (once again), and as a musical the lyrics are mostly dreary, apart from the odd great such as "Don't cry for me Argentina".

Evita had the potential to be a brilliant political drama. Its subject is a story of an amazing life during an amazing time.

Eva Peron (Evita) was born in the 1920s in a small village in Argentina from a love affair between a poor peasant and a rich businessman. She moved to Buenos Aries at the age of 17, with no money and no job, and turned to prostitution. She was soon "discovered" and became a small time model, going on to perform on radio and in films.

Eva Peron made some influential friends in the military and public service. After the military coup in 1943 her position in society rose — especially after she started living with Colonel Juan Domingo Peron, then minister of labour and vice-president in the Junta.

Juan Peron's popularity increased after he introduced liberal workplace policies to the point where he was considered a threat by the Junta. In early 1945 he was arrested and detained.

Public discontent was great and the main trade union federation, the Confederacion General de Trabajo (CGT), organised the first major public action for democracy on October 17, 1945. Its call for Juan Peron to be freed was supported by the Union Sindical Argentina (USA), but not the anarchist union, the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA). Eva Peron played a large part in this demonstration.

Ongoing strikes and demonstrations ensured Juan Peron's release and launched him on the path to victory in the presidential elections of February 1946. Out of prison, he formed the Partido Laborista (Workers Party), to which the CGT affiliated. Partido Laborista very quickly became the main Argentine political party, overwhelming the Union Democractia and the Communist Party. Meanwhile Eva Peron's popularity soared; she became Evita, a "saint" of the working class.

The film depicts these events well, especially the 1946 election and the violence perpetrated against the Union Democractia. However, that's about where the politics ends. The film then drifts off the major political events in progress to focus on the day-to-day personal life of Eva Peron.

Evita presents Eva as a saint and Juan as a brilliant politician. But the Peronista regime was actually a populist-nationalist government which sprang up at a time of massive political instability, an experience repeated in 1973 when Juan Peron was re-elected after many coups.

The film also tries to steer around the left political opposition to the Peronista regime. It does get a mention since the film's narrator — "Che Guevara" — becomes involved in the opposition movement, but it is misrepresented as sporadic and disorganised.

Evita tries to be critical but in the end glorifies Eva Peron as a true heroine of the people who was "mislead" by Juan Peron and his cronies.

Contrary to all the advertising, the film is not even entertaining. It is a depoliticised version of the sad tale of a populist regime that blocked the development of a politically independent workers' movement.

From GLW issue 266