The title, of course, has been borrowed from the Beatles’ – or John Lennon’s, to be more accurate – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. It is 1966. Antonio (Javier Cámara) is a bald, chubby schoolteacher in Madrid.
He is also a Beatles tragic and John Lennon devotee. Hearing that his hero is in Spain shooting a movie (‘How I Won The War’) he jumps in in his little green car and heads for Almeria with the goal of meeting him.
On the way he picks up a couple of hitchhikers – Belén (Natalia de Molina), fleeing the confines of a hostel for pregnant girls, and Juanjo (Francesco Colomer), who has run away from home after his father, a copper, bullied him for refusing to have his hair cut.
Franco’s Spain is a brutish realm benighted by Catholicism, writer/director David Trueba makes no bones about it, and the teenagers whom Antonio befriends are, unknowingly, at the coal-face of the social upheaval that swept the West at the time. But the film is in no way didactic, instead getting its message across through intimacy and a light heart.
As one who understands the worth of words, Antonio believes Lennon’s Help encapsulates the human condition and he strives to open his travelling companions’ eyes to the pulse of life that Lennon’s lyricism represents.
He becomes their mentor while the youngsters introduce love into his solitary existence – I found it reminiscent, throughout, of Michael Radford’s Il Postino (1994). Cámara’s brilliant portrayal is of a man of fervent intellect and robust humility, and it is perfectly complemented by de Molina’s girl on the cusp of womanhood and Colomer’s naive boy.
The success of any story can generally be gauged by how we react when the protagonist approaches his journey’s end – in this case, I was as excited as Antonio, in a way that gunfights and smash-ups can never excite, as he got ever closer to succeeding in his quest.
One of the year’s best – and the postscript is a beauty.
~ John Campbell