Belle Epoque (1992)



Director:     Fernando Trueba. 

Cast:     Penlope Cruz (Luz), Miriam Daz Aroca (Clara), Gabino Diego (Juanito), Fernando Fernn Gmez (Manolo), Michel Galabru (Danglard), Ariadna Gil (Violeta), Agustn Gonzlez (Don Luis), Chus Lampreave (DoZa Asun), Mary Carmen Ramrez (Amalia), Jorge Sanz (Fernando), Maribel Verd (Roco), Juan Jos Otegui (Soldier), Jess Bonilla (Soldier), Mara Galiana (La Polonia), Joan Potau (Paco).

love blooms for a young man during the early period of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

In the winter of 1930 after the failure of the anti-monarchical rebellion in Jaca a young soldier left his barracks and wandered the countryside as a deserter trying to lead his own life. 

February, 1931.  Somewhere in Spain. 

Two policemen of the Civil Guard ask Fernando, the young deserter, where he is from and where he is going.  He is from Madrid but does not know where he is going.  Under further questioning Fernando shouts:  "Long live Galan and Garcia Hernandez".  The younger policeman shouts:  "He's probably from Jaca" and starts to strike him with his rifle.  But the older man stops him.

After a long walk, the older policemen suggests that they release Fernando.  Why?  "The sooner we serve the side that's most likely to win the better.  . . . In the Revolution of 1854 our founder, the Marquis of Ahumada was thrown out for defending the government."  But the younger man does not want to let Fernando go and threatens to shoot the senior policeman if he releases the prisoner.  Calling his bluff, the older fellow releases Fernando.  But it wasn't a bluff.  The younger fellow fires his rifle, killing the man.  Now it turns out that the older fellow was the father-in-law of the younger guy.  The younger man is distraught at what he did, fears what his wife will say to him and shoots himself through the mouth. 

Fernando is free to proceed down the road.  He finds a house of prostitution and goes inside.  He decides he wants to have sex with one of the prostitutes.  But while waiting he gets involved with some older men playing cards.  Among the men are Manolo, a farmer, and the priest.  Manolo almost takes an immediate liking to Fernando.  After the card game breaks up, he takes Fernando with him to his house and they both sleep in Manolo's bed. 

Fernando waits for Spain to establish a second republic.  Manolo is an infidel, a rebel and a libertine by nature, so both fellows get along with one another.  The next morning they take a walk to the local bar at the train station.  They pass a wall with the slogan:  "Death to the King."  They learn that the town is getting ready for carnival.  Manolo remarks:  "What a country Fernando!  Spain is on the brink of a new era and the mayor's office arranges carnivals." The two men meet the train coming in from Madrid.  Fernando will board the train and leave.  Manolo says good-bye to Fernando and greets his four beautiful daughters getting off the train:  Carla, Violeta, Roco and the youngest Luz.  The daughters tell their father that they left Madrid because of all the demonstrations, fights, strikes and shootings.  Fernando is so awe struck looking at the women that he misses his train. 

Fernando walks back to Manolo's place.  Luz is particularly glad to see him.  He says he went into town but there is no inn.  Fernando tells the women that he was a bugler for the republican forces.  When the Jaca mutiny failed, Fernando deserted.  Fernando prepared the meal with which everyone is very impressed.  Juanito arrives with a band to sing to the women.  He is in love with Roco.  Juanito has come with his mother to ask for Roco's hand in marriage.  Mom says that she would have preferred a Carlist family, but a Republican one is better than some Bourbons.  When Roco says that she does not know if she loves Juanito, Mom jumps up, kisses Roco and scolds her son saying that who is better for him than mother.  She seems very happy about the turn of events. 

Roco makes a bed for Fernando.  She flirts with him and he starts kissing her.  They have to stop when someone calls for Roco.   

The establishment of a Republic is approaching.  Manolo notes that the King has accepted Berenguer's resignation and met with the meddler Romanones.  They mention that the poet Unamuno had not signed the republican statement signed by other supporters of a republican government. 

The four women pick out the costumes for carnival.  They flirt with Fernando.  Violeta eyes his old army uniform.  She wears it for carnival.  They dress Fernando as a French maid, while Roco goes as a Flamenco dancer and Luz wears blackface and black on her upper body.  Carla, the widow, stays home.  At the carnival Violeta is attracted to Fernando as the French maid.  She kisses him.  Juanito returns Roco's letter and photos.  He wants his mother's bracelet back.  But Roco objects that they are still engaged and won't return it. 

The men talk politics.  One says:  With Romanones in power, I feel calm."    Another says all this "republic" business will peter out.  Manolo doesn't seem to care much for the new cabinet with Romanones as Minister of State.  They talk about Alcale Zamora.  Manolo says the man is not a revolutionary.  Violeta dances with Fernando, playing the role of the army man to the hilt.  Fernando quits after a while, tired of being treated like a lady.  The French maid tells Violeta that she acted just like a man and she replies: "That's what I am."  Apparently she is a lesbian.  She takes Fernando up into a hay loft and they have sex. 

In the presence of Luz, Fernando tells Manolo that he is in love with his daughter Violeta.  This makes Luz angry and she walks out in a huff.   Manolo finds the whole thing hard to believe, but when he hears that they had sex, he is very happy.  He finds Luz and kisses her.  He wants a grandchild.  But Violeta just laughs and Manolo remembers that she is a "man".    Fernando is a bit heart-broken.  He packs his things to leave, but is stopped by Carla.  She tells Fernando all about Violeta.  Juanito has Roco try on his mother's wedding dress.  She tells Juanito that she would prefer to wait for the Republic.  Mom is with Juanito and she gets upset and starts taking the wedding dress off Roco.  Fernando goes in to comfort Roco and they end up having sex.  This makes Carla upset.  Fernando thinks he has to marry Roco now.  But she asks him not to tell her father and, in a huff, Fernando heads down to the train station to go back to Madrid.  Manolo brings him back to the house. 

Juanito rides on horseback over to see the priest.  He says he wants to become a Republican and for that goal he wants to renounce his membership in the Catholic faith.  He wants the priest to come with him to Manolo's so the priest can tell Roco that Juanito has left the faith.  The priest agrees and they go over to see Manolo and Rocio and the rest of the family at lunch time.  The priest says that Juanito has been excommunicated and Juanito says now Roco and he can marry.  But Roco objects saying the only one he truly loves is his mother. 

Carla takes Fernando down to the lake.  Fernando accidentally falls into the water and Carla helps him get back to shore.  Then they have sex. 

The family is upset.  The conservatives are preparing to rig the elections.  Roco forces Juanito to go with the other men to a republican meeting to discuss what to do.  Fernando and Carla return to the house and the women put him into bed since he seems to be coming down with an illness.  The women know what Carla did because her backside is dirty.  The women start to nurse Fernando back to health. 

Back from the meeting, Juanito says he will sleep at Manolo's house.  He slips into bed with Roco and talks about the idea of "free love" he heard from the republicans.  Roco gets mad at this and throws him out.  Juanito leaves shouting that he will be a Carlista forever!  He takes it all back.  He starts singing a Carlist song:  "Our fathers died for God, fatherland and the king.  For the same causes we too shall die.   Cost what it may, King Don Carlos must enter through the gates of Madrid."

Luz goes up to see the delirious Fernando who is talking in his sleeping, ,mentioning Violeta, Roco and Carla.  This makes Luz so mad that she throws a bucket of water on him and leaves. 

Manolo's wife returns to the house with her lover, Danglard.  Amalia is an opera singer and she sings for the household.  Everyone is very glad to see her again.  She has been on an opera tour of South America (financed by her lover).  Mama takes a liking to Fernando.  After eating, Amalia has sex with her husband.  This upset Danglard, especially since he took a big financial loss on the opera tour.  Manolo has to console Danglard. 

Roco brings the news that the Republic has won!  Manolo says:  "Let's celebrate!"  The older daughters tell Mama that Luz is in love with Fernando.  Mother is pleased.  At a picnic, Luz gets mad at her sisters for bossing her around and she runs off crying.  Fernando finds Luz in order to console her.  Mother and daughters go to spy on Fernando and Luz and find them kissing.  Violeta fires off a shotgun into the air to make sure the pair doesn't go too far.  Mama talks marriage for the two. 

Luz gets in bed with Fernando.  After assuring Luz that he loves her, they have sex. 

Everyone goes to the church for the wedding.  But they find there that the priest has hung himself.  The book he holds in his hand has the title:  "Unamuno del sentimiento tragico de la vida."  But now, what about the wedding?  Manolo tells one and all:  "Look, since Spain is now a secular Republic consider yourselves married.  Juanito, get the Justice to come and straighten it all out."

At the railroad station.  Violeta, Carla and Roco leave for Madrid on the train.  Mama and Danglard drive away from the station to go on another tour.  Fernando and Luz leave with them.  The latter two plan to go to America. 

Manolo returns home alone via his horse and buggy.


Good movie with some well-known stars.  The times were presented as somewhat idyllic with the liberals looking forward to the establishment of a possible second republic in Spain.  Liberals had hope.  The historical events themselves are not portrayed, but they are mentioned quite a few times in the movie.  There is plenty of love in Manolo's family, so no wonder Fernando wanted to stay.  A sexy, feel-good movie.  Especially considering what was to come (the Spanish Civil War and the long dictatorship of fascist Fancisco Franco), in hindsight the period was looked on with a bit of  the wistfulness for Camelot.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


At the beginning of the 19th century, the political situation in Spain was extremely problematic. During the war of independence against Napoleon, the Cortes met in Cdiz (1812) and elaborated the first Spanish constitution, possibly the most modern and most liberal in the world. After the war, when Ferdinand VII returned to Spain, he annulled the constitution in the Manifest of Valencia, and thus became an absolute king, governing by decrees and restoring the Spanish Inquisition, abolished by Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon.

Towards the end of his life, Ferdinand made some concessions to the liberals, giving them hopes of a liberal rule. But there was a strong absolutist party which did not want to lose its position. Its members knew that Mara Cristina and Isabella would make liberal reforms, so they looked for another candidate for the throne; and their natural choice, with the background of the Salic Law, was Ferdinand's brother Carlos

183l-1833  --  reign of Ferdinand VII. 

Since King Ferdinand VII had no male descendant, he had promulgated the Pragmtica Sancin so that his daughter Isabella to become Queen after his death.

Normally the king's brother, Infante Carlos, would have become king. There were many supporters of Carlos, such as the Secretary of Justice Francisco Tadeo Calomarde, and they wanted Ferdinand to change his mind. But that didn't happen.   

1833  --  death of Ferdinand.  Accession of three-year old Isabella as Queen of Spain.  A regent was needed and that was her mother, Queen Consort Mara Cristina.

1833-1868  --  reign of Isabella II. 

1833-1839  --  Isabella II's accession sparked the First Carlist War.  Carlos invaded Spain with the support of reactionaries and conservatives.  The liberals won this civil war.  Despite the civil war, Isabella II was immensely unpopular throughout her reign.

1846 (Sept.) - 1849 (May)  --  the Second Carlist War was a civil war fought primarily in Catalonia by the Carlists under General Ramn Cabrera against the forces of the government of Isabella II.  The uprising spread to Galicia.  Ramn Mara Narvez led the counterattack against the revolt in Galicia and Fernando Fernndez de Crdova, captain-general of Catalonia, put down the isolated rebel cells there by early 1849.

1868  --  The Glorious Revolution (Spanish La Gloriosa) deposed Queen Isabella II. 

1869  --  the Cortex wrote the first truly liberal Spanish constitution.

The Cortes started a search for a suitable king.

1870 (August)  --  an Italian prince, Amadeo of Savy, the younger son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, was chosen by the Cortes

1870-1873  --  reign of Amadeus I

1872  --  the Carlists perform poorly at the elections and launch a violent insurrection.

1872-1876  --  the Third Carlist War was the last Carlist War. 

1873-1874  --  First Spanish RepublicThe Republican armies resist the Carlist insurrection.

1874-1931  --  the Restoration. 

1874-1885  --  reign of Alfonso XII. 

1874-1875 (winter)  --  Republican armies pledged their allegiance Alfonso XII.  The Republic was dissolved. 

1874 (New Year's Eve)  --  Antonio Canovas del Castillo became the new Prime Minister.

Alfonso vigorously put down the Carlist insurrection.

1885  --  death of Alfonso destabilizes the government. 

1886-1931  --   rule of Alfonso XIII. 

1897  --  assassination of Canovas del Castillo further destabilizes the government. 

1898  --  Spanish-American War starts. 

1914-1918  --  Spain was neutral during World War I. 

1921  --  loss of Spanish Morocco. 

1923-1930  --  dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera

1925-1927  --  with France, Spain recovers the Moroccan territory.

1925  --  Jos Calvo Sotelo does a great job as finance minister.

1930 (March 16)  --  in the face of bankruptcy and massive unpopularity King Alfonso XIII forces Primo de Rivera to resign. 

1930 (October)  --  Ramn Franco, brother of fascist Francisco Franco and Italian aviation pioneer, along with other Republican aviators, seized some aircraft in the aerodrome of Cuatro Vientos and flew over Madrid to bomb the the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), but he could not realize his ambition.  He fled to Portugal.  He returned with the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. 

1930  --  Alfonso XIII appoints General Dmaso Berenguer, one of Primo de Rivera's opponents, to govern.

1930 (December 12-13)  --  there is a mutiny of the garrison at Jaca (located in northeastern Spain near the border with France).  They demand the abolition of monarchy and a democratic republic.  The mutiny is suppressed with some difficulty, but it prestages the coming Spanish Civil War. 

1930 (December 14)  --  captains Fermn Galn Rodriguez and Angel Garca Hernndez are executed for their participation in the Jaca mutiny.  

1931 (April)  --  urban areas vote for republican parties in municipal elections.

1931 (April)  --  General Jos Sanjurjo informs the king that he can not count on the loyalty of the armed forces.

1931 (April 14)  --  Alfonso abdicates.  Second Spanish Republic is proclaimed.  Alfonso XIII goes into exile. 

1931-1939  --  Second Spanish Republic. 

Niceto Alcal-Zamora is the Prime Minister for a brief time.

1931-1936  --  Niceto Alcal-Zamora serves as the president of the Republic. 

1931 (June) - 1933 (September)  --   Manuel Azaa Daz serves as the Prime Minister. 

1933  --  Primo de Rivera's eldest son, Jos Antonio, founds the Falange, a Spanish Fascist party.

1935 (May)  --  Count Romanones organizes the Liberal Monarchist Democratic party. 

1936 (May) - 1939 (April)  --  Manuel Azaa Daz serves as the second and last president of the Republic.

1935 (September 20)  --  Premier Lerroux and his coalition cabinet resigned; they started April 3. The Agrarians were angry about a too conciliatory policy toward Catalonia. Joaquin Chapaprieta headed the new ministry, while Robles continued as Minister of War and Lerroux was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

1936  -- the left united in the Popular Front and was elected to power.  The government was undermined by anti-democratic far-right groups such as the Falange and the Carlists.  The right and the left started to fight each other. 

1936 (July)  --  start of the Spanish Civil War. 

1936 (July 17)  --  General Francisco Franco led the colonial army in Morocco to attack the mainland.  General Sanjurjo moved led another force. 

1939 (January 26)  --  Barcelona falls to fascist Francisco Franco's Nationalist troops. 

1939 (February 5)  --  President Manuel Azaa flees to France.

1936-1975  --  dictatorship of Francisco Franco.



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