I can remember doing it in the pre-digital age, back when I was an analogue man – still am largely that really. To do it in those years the technology, sufficient for reproduction, was unwieldy for my purposes. These days it’s so simple for those who know what they are doing. In days of yore it involved constantly rewinding tape, or repeatedly lifting and carefully lowering a stylus onto vinyl. That’s how one attained lyrics once upon a time. I needed the actual words of songs for several reasons – to prove a point over possible mondegreens; for my personal pleasure in having the words so I could uptake a hair-brush and sing along (you wouldn’t have wanted to be there). But definitely the most significant purpose was to utilise them for teaching purposes – usually to provide kids with ‘poetry’ they could relate to. Something playing on the airwaves for them surely beat verse scribed a few centuries beforehand. My hope was, with the more intelligent of any given cohort, they would then eventually seek out the great wordsmiths of the past for themselves. But then, I was teaching to notionally English as a first language speakers – it being also the language of the vast majority of ‘hits’ they gyrated around to. Imagine had I been a Spanish (or of any other nationality for that matter) pedagogue trying to use the same technique to teach English to kiddies who spoke a different tongue?
Eventually some bright spark decided it would be beneficial for all to actually include the lyrics with the product, a common practice today – and then there’s always the ether. It now seems that forward thinking type was none other than John Lennon. And this is how it all happened.
The story is told in ‘The Living is Easy With Eyes Closed’, an Iberian Peninsula production centred around a Spanish teacher, Antonio, attempting to instruct his flock English through the words of a Liverpool based quartet, of which John Lennon just happened to be a member. Antonio took a journey to a nondescript burg in the south of his country – a trip that solved his problem, as well as that of yours truly. For the bespectacled informer of young people, it was also a journey to happiness – or so he imagined.
Hector, on the other hand, had his life imploding all around him. He was in a rut as deep as the Grand Canyon. With his whole existence micromanaged by mothering, smothering girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) and his workday as a London psychiatrist dominated by weirdo patients, something had to give. He was showing distinct signs of losing the plot, culminating in Hector (Simon Pegg) blowing his gasket big time. Calming down, he decides he is miserable and has to ‘find himself’ – or at least find a happy side to life. To more fully understand the nebulous nature of an emotion largely unknown to him, ol’ Hec decides the answer lies at the four corners of the planet and he has to ‘go find’. Can he achieve it with a gorgeous Chinese lover (Ming Zhao) he meets in Shanghai; a Buddhist monk (Togo Igawa) living atop of a mountain; by doing good works in Africa or maybe by chasing down an old flame (Toni Collette) in LA?
Of the two offerings, the Spanish affair was the pick. Perhaps ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ had too much of a kinship to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, with that colouring my view. I certainly didn’t find it ‘…a rich, exhilarating and hilarious tale.’ as the publicity blurb indicated I would. There were some engaging touches, such as Hector’s propensity to break out his animation chops at various stages. I also enjoyed the performance of Barry Atsma as the not so jaded businessman – the one who shows our hero the pleasures of the Orient. Pike was spunky in her screen time, but I feel Pegg is better suited to chasing aliens and zombies around the countryside. And of course the ending sticks out like a sore thumb. For all his meanderings around the planet the audience soon figures what would truly give the ‘idiot abroad’ true happiness – if only he can think it through for himself.
A far more affecting performance is put in by Javier Cámara as Antonio. He’s nobody’s idea as a handsome leading man, but there is a certain aura about him that some actors, not blessed by manly beauty, can attain. This hero’s life, apart from the joys of teaching, holds little else for him. He is not as blessed as Hector by having an easy on the eye woman in his orb – or even an uneasy one for that matter. For him Lennon is the way out of the rut – and the mop-top just happens to be making a film in his country. Thus he undertakes a journey to pose to him his conundrum. En route he picks up a couple of lost souls – teenage Juanjo (Francesc Colomer ) is at war with his parents and pregnant Belén (Natalia de Molina) is proposed to by Antonio – but he has no hope. Spanish life, at the time, was constrained by the twin towers of Franco and the Catholic church. The film reflects this, but also the resilience of the Spanish populace who manage to survive and display a joie de vivre despite the oppression. Unlike our chalkie, we as audience never get to meet Lennon – but really he’s not needed. Antonio is the real star of this piece. It’s the movie of the two that possesses that fragile commodity of ‘heart’. Dear reader, you can believe every word of fulsome praise the critics have lauded it with. ‘Hector…’, despite its failings, is far from two hours of ill-spent time. The Peter Chelsom helmed product does, though, lack the inherent easy charm David Trueba manages with his sub-titled offering. I know which gave me the greatest happiness!
‘The Living is Easy with Eyes Closed’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO1jXG38XbM
‘Hector and the search for Happiness’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DELCgkntuvw