Based on the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, there are really only three characters in Evita: Perón (Jonathan Pryce), the sly soldier who studied fascism in Europe, bided his time and came to power in the mid-1940s with his local brand of Latin American populism; his consort, Eva (Madonna), a Magdalene turned Madonna, who rose from bed to bed as a radio performer and minor movie actress to become champion of the people; and the chorus figure, Che (Antonio Banderas).
One other figure, the greasy tango singer Agustín Magaldi (Jimmy Nail) – who brought Evita from the provinces to Buenos Aires – has some sort of identity. But through the careful selection of every face in a supporting cast of thousands, there is a sense of individuality in whatever group the picture represents: meatpackers, army officers, aristocrats at a ball or polo game, protesting workers, politicians.
Everyone who comes near the camera gets to sing a few lines, and wherever the singing is, there is Antonio Banderas as the narrator who sings us through Eva’s rise and fall, and who – with many a raised eyebrow to the camera – points out the story’s ironies. Though still named Ché in the credits, he doesn’t wear the trademark beret and beard.
He first appears in the opening sequence as the only dry-eyed member of a movie audience to whom the manager announces Evita’s death, and it may well be that director Alan Parker intends us to be equally dry-eyed at the end.
Ché is an ironic observer – waiter, barman, neighbour, aristocratic flâneur, journalist, projectionist, labour protester – serving as a prism, filtering perceptions of Evita as progressive fraud, saint, fascist, and style victim.
The film suggests that her career was an act of revenge against the middle-class family that in 1926 rejected its illegitimate working-class branch on the occasion of her father’s funeral when Eva was seven.
Parker opted for a stylised realism, using location shooting in Budapest and Argentina to show Buenos Aires as a solid architectural chunk of late 19th-century Europe stuck down on the edge of the world, with the dusty pampas stretching out beyond.
Seduced by Perón’s blandishments, the workers are at first his keenest supporters. Not long after they are his angry victims, and the confrontations between the proletariat and the State are brutal.
Parker cleverly shows the way the citizens of a fascistic, authoritarian state are seduced by glamour. Evita addressing the crowd from the balcony of the Casa Rosada (and the nation via radio) with the manipulative Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is reminiscent of Anthony’s funeral speech in Julius Caesar.
Madonna is quite remarkable, capturing the crude aggression of country girl, Eva Duarte, driven by blonde ambition, and the film looks gorgeous, with almost 5,000 extras for the crowd scenes, lavish production values, and a cast that seems better able to get round both the lines and the songs than might be expected.
María Luján Hidalgo