PUTADONNA

Probably no one but Madonna could have played Evita at the time it was filmed. Both bitches are demigoddesses—trash peddlers, with less than sterling reputations, with pretensions to unearned respectability. There’s one dramatic difference: we know more about Madonna than the Argentines ever knew about Eva Peron before her death. Of course Eva and Madonna are media whores, but Madonna's honest about it; she spreads her favors in a veritable egalitarian manner, unlike charlatan Eva, who plotted to destroy and plunder in the name of the poor. Madonna’s work in Evita grants a degree of regard because of her unflagging determination to be the screen image of a symbol she’s openly admitted identification with. The similarities are less genuine than they are superficially contoured to fit the needs of one of our reigning queens of media trash: Madonna sees her road to success as parallel to Eva Peron’s, when such connections are dubious p.r. at best. Madonna’s naked polymorphism is a begging-for-audience acceptance; Eva was cold cunning—resolute in ambition, malicious intent and revenge—while demanding veneration as a Madonna. So singer Madonna can’t act. Neither could Eva: her highest level of theatre achievement, as opposed to speechifying, came in a third-rate production of The Childrens Hour. So Madonna goes flaccid ocassionally, and is saved by director Alan Parker and his editor, who cut away just in the nick of time. What matter are that Madonna brings a good strong voice to the pedestrian lyrics, have a sufficient surface resemblance to Eva, and carry the Penny Rose wardrobe without the wardrobe carrying her. (Eva became an obsessive clothes horse; Madonna’s frame barely cuts it as a fashion rack.) I’m not sure why, but I got flushed with some bit of pride when she sang “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” Maybe because I never expected to receive emotions from her. And maybe because I didn’t expect much from the movie to begin with. Madonna isn’t going to work for those who think Evita deserves a real singer like Streisand, or a class actress like Streep or Close. They’d have brought their own brands of professionalism to the role, but the character would have been drawfed by their superstardom. Madonna can’t establish character, either, because she’s so commercially who she is, but she imparts a needed if accidental ambivalence and that’s important: Evita is a pop opera that perpetuates myth—the adoration of the Latin putadonna—without validation. It takes fearlessness to do that, and Madonna’s got plenty. Evita opens up in a way that suggests Coppola doing a pleb Wagnerian turn; the whole thing’s beautifully photographed to look like sun-kissed cream by Darius Khondji, and the ambiance very authentic to Buenos Aires’ snobbism: this city and its people consider themselves European first, Latin maybe. (That’s why the patrician chorus seems right out of the “Ascot Gavotte” from My Fair Lady.) Just about stealing the picture is Antonio Banderas as Che, the conscience of the betrayed: his passion, his swarthy good looks and his from-the-depths-of-diaphragm voice energize the concept—and the movie.

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