Review - Evita (fwd)

Tue, 28 Jan 1997 02:42:36 -0800 (PST)
Charles J. Reid (

Hi, Folks!

Hope you won't mind this slightly different post.

-- Charlie Reid
"Salus populi suprema est lex" (Cicero)
The welfare of the people is the highest law.

The Humanization of Evita
by Charles J. Reid

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Madonna is magnificent as Eva Peron in "Evita."
Not since Meryl Streep as Sophie Zawistowska in "Sophie's Choice" has
a performer so immersed herself in the essence of a character so
successfully to portray the emotional repertoire of a truly tragic figure.
This must be Madonna's greatest performance, and one difficult to
ever transcend.
Streep played a fictional character. Madonna's Evita reinforces the
mythical aura of an historical heroine wafted through the vestiges of
History, controlled by the spin doctors of special interests, all who
would have their judgment "objectified."
Meanwhile, Madonna turns Eva Peron into a living, vibrant, fragile
human being.
If Eva Peron's soul had been trapped in some ethereal sphere waiting
to be captured by another living being for one more moment of self
expression before release to judgment in an afterlife, Madonna
captured it and set it free for all of us to see, indeed, as the
words themselves echo:

Don't cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you...
And as for fortune, and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired
They are illusions...
There's nothing more I can think
of to say to you
But all you have to do is look at me to know that every
word is true

"Evita" shows us a collage of human and political truth.
It is hard to imagine the global political turmoil following World
War II. Nazism and Fascism were defeated. Joe Stalin still ruled the
Soviet Union. The Western Democracies claimed the victory as theirs.
Meanwhile, governments in Third World countries, faced with
pronounced class disparities, had no independent model to follow,
caught as they were in the middle of the struggle between the cold-war
Super Powers.
From independence in 1810, Argentina's history is a history of
military coup and counter coup until recent years. Although he was
actually elected, Juan Peron presumably never read Plato, Aristotle,
or Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Oughta Be." It's easy to moralize
about behavior of well-intentioned leaders caught between the rock of
History and the hard place of power, fragilely balancing the interests
of the wealthy, the Church, and the poor.
Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron provides a proper balance to Madonna's
Evita. Confronted with Argentina's own aristocracy, its alliance with
the Catholic Church, the aspirations of the Third World are found in
the Peron's lines:

Argentinos! Argentinos! We are all workers now!
Fighting against our common enemies--
Poverty, social injustice, foreign domination of
our industries!
Reaching for our common goals--
Our independence, our dignity, our pride!
Let the world know that our great nation is awakening

Pryce's aura of male dignity enables Madonna's femininity to shine.
In one scene, on tour somewhere where people seem to need such attention,
the Perons get overwhelmed by the cheering masses. Madonna's Evita
blushes girlishly as she turns to become enveloped in Peron's embrace.
It is hard to imagine another actress who would have been able to
capture this simple moment so beautifully. Indeed, it is a screen shot
of true happiness cut away from all too quickly.
Antonio Banderas is perfectly cast as Che Guevarra, who comes across
not as a Latino Revolutionary, but as an ugly American with a Hispanic
accent. Somehow, we just don't like Che, even though his commentary in
the story might reflect our own values.
In the movie, Che represents Historical Consciousness, Judgment.
But it is as if Historical Consciousness cannot be objectified: it is an
American Historical Consciousness in an American Century, still hung
over by a residue of Puritanism. And all the envy, harsh moralizing,
hubris, and hypocrisy American values have come to be are reflected
in Che's commentary on the action throughout Evita's story.
As Eva lies in state in her coffin, Che mockingly complains:

You let down your people Evita
You were supposed to have been immortal
That's all they wanted

As Eva Duarte struggles to rise above her state in a life with few
options, Che speaks not the words of a revolutionary, but as a
moralizing aristocratic wannabe:

The lady's got potential
She was setting her sights
Of making it in movies
With her name in lights
The greatest social climber
Since Cinderella

Once the Perons acquire power, Lyricist Tim Rice has Che observe:

How annoying that they have to fight elections for their cause
The inconvenience--having to get a majority.

Actually, Peron was elected twice, in 1946 and 1952, before being
ousted by the military the first time in 1955. And Che certainly would
not have worried about the niceties of a bourgeois electoral process
in a pseudo-democratic environment, one becoming more and more under
the control of graduates of the College of the Americas.
Eva covets the Vice Presidency, but human frailty denies her the
office. Ultimately, she has only done some of the things the
politicians promised to do. This is enough to make her politically
Detractors say the real Eva Peron placed her own interests above
anyone else's. They say she laundered money that came into her Eva
Peron Foundation in Switzerland. They conclude that, in the end, Evita
did nothing for Argentina.
This is all probably aristocratic spin, initiated by the Perons'
wealthy, connected political opponents, the same folk the lyricist has

Such a shame she wandered into our enclosure
How unfortunate this person has forced us to be blunt
No, we wouldn't mind seeing her at Harrod's
But behind the jewelry counter--not in front

History gives us a different story, and Madonna's Evita shows us a
bit about what true human nobility might be: overcoming the
vicissitudes of life to make a difference in the lives of others. Even
if that life was all too short, the difference is part of History, the
political history of Argentina, and now cinematographic history.
For those who want to surf the web for more information, you can find
a 5MB AVI file trailer at: If
you want to read through the lyrics, you can point your browser at: And you can get a
very short history of Argentina, including a few short paragraphs on
the Peron period at:


Charles Reid is a freelance writer living in Santa Cruz, CA.