• Warning: Spoilers
    BELLE EPOQUE it set in the time of the "beautiful era" (ergo, the film's title) in Spain, although it had ended in France and the rest of Europe by 1931, the year in which the events of Fernando Trueba's movie take place. While less a movie about the arts and culture and the milieu, this is a lush, romantic comedy about a young man, Fernando, who deserts his duty and finds himself seeking refuge at the villa of a old man, Don Manolo, who is as conservative as a Martian is green. There he encounters his four daughters: Clara, Violeta, Rocio, and Luz -- all stunning, all single, and all besotted by him. Of course, Don Manolo fears he will lose a friend with the continued presence of Fernando at his house because he knows they will eventually pounce on him, and he'll have to marry one of them. It's not a question of who -- early on, it's pretty clear who Fernando will wind up marrying -- but the road to their elopement is fun as Fernando becomes acquainted with each one of the young women, all markedly different in temper. A standout is a scene involving Ferando's tryst with Violeta at a costume party. She is dressed as a gendarme, he as a maid. The role reversal is absolutely delightful, and Ariadna Gil's masculine personality as Violeta comes out full force as she is the one to take charge and make love to Fernando as all he can do is lay back and enjoy the time. Of course, the punch-line comes next morning when Don Manolo hears of this, and exclaims, "It's a miracle!" Fernando, however, is a little more dense and it takes Violeta's vicious tongue lashing to make him know she may not prefer the male sex as much as her own. A uniformly brilliant cast of veterans and rising actors, all Goya nominated numerous times: Fernando Fernan Gomez, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, Jorge Sanz, Miriam Diaz-Aroca, and Penelope Cruz right at the dawn of her career, barely eighteen, showing the promise of the great actress she would become in later years. A beautiful film on the lines of ENCHANTED APRIL, one that has a flawless, self-contained prologue as two soldiers who have captured Fernando at his desertion argue over a banality. One kills the other, then in a moment of hilarious desperation (filled with typical Spanish curses), he shoots himself because, as he says, "What will my wife think? This was a good man! I've killed him over nothing!" Somewhere, the master of absurd films -- Luis Bunuel -- should be smiling if ever he seems this film Up There.