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Lennon in Spain: Dir. David Trueba on the Uplifting 'Living is Easy with Eyes Closed'

Unfazed by the fact that his dream is almost impossible to reach, Antonio (Javier Cámara), a small town English professor, embarks on a quest through the Spanish countryside to meet his hero: John Lennon. His companions, whom he finds along the way, are Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a teenager running away from his authoritative father, and Belen (Natalia de Molina), a pregnant young woman fleeing from judgment. Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker David Trueba captures the unbelievable true story with an easygoing air, but not without cautiously embedding it with political undertones and significant references to life in the 60s. Taking its title from a line in the popular song “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles, Trueba’s “Living is Easy with Eyes Close,” is a touching depiction of a curious hidden chapter in history.

"Living is Easy with Eyes Closed" has been shortlisted as one of three possible to represent Spain at the Oscars.

Carlos Aguilar: This is such a warm and unique story. How did you become interested in making it into a film?

David Trueba : It was rather funny. I developed it after listening to the story of this professor that traveled a long distance to Almeria to meet John Lennon. I realize it was a story I wanted to tell. This was a character that embodies what I think is an ideal person: someone who is anonymous, perhaps someone not really that important, humble. However, those are the ones that change the history of a country.

Carlos Aguilar: Had his story been told before? Was there a book or any other material preceding your film?

David Trueba : No, it was a very unknown story in Spain. Nobody had heard about this professor. He is now very happy to have become a celebrity. He is a very charming man.

Carlos Aguilar: How was your experience meeting the real Antonio?

David Trueba : It was very interesting because I wrote the screenplay before meeting him in person. I wrote it just based on the original concept. Later when I went to see him and explained to him that I wanted to make this film, he was just so excited about the idea. He is just very happy.

Carlos Aguilar: Was it important for you to include undertones about the political situation in Spain at the time?

David Trueba : It was very important that those undertones were there, but it was also important for them not to be too specific to the country’s situation. I didn’t want to say that the story could only take place under a dictatorship. I think that even if there is no dictatorship, we still live in a world ruled by authority, fear, control, and repression. The film is about the juxtaposition of our personal freedom and the environment in which we live.

Carlos Aguilar: I think your film delivers a very hopeful story, which upholds John Lennon and his music as a symbol.

David Trueba : During that era Lennon represented freedom, a shining light, or a breath of fresh air. I think in every time period we have the necessity to admire or look up to revolutionary people. These are people that open our eyes. They show us the world, the future, the great ideals. They remind us why we are on this earth. Lennon served that function, and I think we need more people like that. We need to tell stories that open people’s hearts

Carlos Aguilar: Why would you say Lennon’s songs transcended and became iconic?

David Trueba : I think art that doesn’t aim to be transcendental might end up being just that. The Beatles are a great example. Their songs were written to be enjoyed, to make people dance, to talk about their personal stories, and they became universal because they were not pretentious. I think it works the same way with films, sometimes when you give yourself too much importance you actually become less important. I like to tell stories with a certain lightheartedness, but they still have a deeper message underneath.

Carlos Aguilar: Javier Camara is one of the most prolific Spanish actors working today. Did you always have him in mind to play the part?

David Trueba : When I was done with the screenplay I started looking for the right actor and the first one that came to mind was Javier. I offered it to him and he loved it. I needed someone with a particular humanity and the ability to convey the character’s values in a natural manner. There are very few actors capable of doing it that well. It was a fortune for me to have Javier on board.

Carlos Aguilar: The two young characters in the film represent this angst and the ideals Lennon spoke about. Where did they come from?

David Trueba : Young people have always been lost in any era or generation. They always feel oppressed or enslaved regardless of the time period they are born in. Young people always want to fly away and explore. It is important to come across the right people in that stage so that your frustrations can be destroyed and you don’t become a resentful person. One of them was inspired by a family story. I’m the youngest one of 8 siblings. One of my older brothers had left home because my father was adamant about him keeping his hair short and he wanted to let it grow. It was the end of the 60s. The character of Juanjo was based directly on him and on that symbolic fight that young people have to face within their family. They want to be free, to be themselves, and to look the way they want to look. The world changes, and each generation changes, but those conflicts remain the same. There is also the concept of sexual freedom, which is one of the most important topics of the Xx century. Belen is a woman living in the midst of it. Spain was a very Catholic country and it was under a military dictatorship, to be pregnant without a husband was a stigma she would have to carry for life. This journey and the professor teach her that in life one has to make his/her own decisions.

Carlos Aguilar: Cinema has become very cynical and it’s rare to see a film that is intelligent but simultaneously heartwarming. Is this something you think about when writing your screenplays?

David Trueba : What’s very important to me in almost everything I do, is to fight against cynicism whether it’s in my novels or films. Nowadays, to be good, to be the smartest one, or to be invited to festivals, you have to create an exercise in cynicism and distance. You have to present the characters as puppets you laugh at. That’s a bit sinister. Violence and crime are overvalued. These days the most revolutionary thing you can do is unmask cynicism and to try to make a film about freedom. You find freedom in letting yourself feel. Telling stories how you see them not how others tell you they should be. Curiously, having so much freedom we prefer to be imprisoned. We could be making film about anything, but we prefer to be caged in a prison of cynicism.

Carlos Aguilar: There is a noticeable local or Spanish quality to the film. How do you include elements particular to your homeland and still make it compelling for audiences abroad?

David Trueba : I always try to make films that are close to my essence. I think people can feel that authenticity when they watch my films. I’ve never had any intention of telling stories that weren’t close to the reality of Spanish society. This is what I know, what I’ve lived though, and what I can best tell stories about. I’m sure that everywhere in the world people recognize that closeness to the stories and they can connect with them. There is no need to forcefully try to make “universal” as defined by Hollywood. I don’t like that idea of a planet where there are no differences. I think differences are wonderful and they help us discover how similar we are in spite of those differences.

Carlos Aguilar: The reception towards the film has been very positive at home, both with audiences and professionals. It won 6 Goya Awards including Best Film and Best director. Why do you think it has struck a chord with people?

David Trueba : The film has an underlining theme that connects with contemporary Spanish society, particularly regarding the financial crisis. A lot of people have found a breath of fresh air in the film. It tells people that Spain has lived through very dark periods before and has overcome them thanks to being generous, sincere, and to having ideals. The film calls for unity and for humble people to shake off the mediocrity of their government.

Carlos Aguilar: How involved was the Lennon estate in the project? Was it is difficult it get their support?

David Trueba : I had to send them the script and some finished scenes so that they could support the film. Otherwise it would have been extremely difficult to get the rights for “Strawberry Fields” and “Help, “ which are the two songs we use in the film. They reacted very positively towards the film once they understood what I wanted to say.

Carlos Aguilar: Lennon is an iconic figure, a bigger than life character known around the world. Yet, he was humble enough to meet with the small town teacher. That really says a lot about him as a person.

David Trueba : One of the things the professor mentioned on several occasions is that John Lennon was very young when he met him. He turned 26 while being in Almeria and he was very surprised to learn that his songs were being used in an English since he had been a very bad student. The professor says Lennon was very polite, charming, and open. From that point on he always send him his albums. I think this is a lesson for a lot of famous people today – who for the most part are just 1% as famous as he was- about how to be an international superstar and still be a good person.

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