Picks and Pans Review: Belle Epoque

updated 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Fernando Fenián Gómez, Jorge Sanz, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Miriam Díaz-Aroca, Penélope Cruz

The Academy Award winner as the year's best foreign language film, this Spanish production is an amusingly sexy romp about a young man who sleeps with all four sisters in a family while managing to stay in the good graces of not only the women but their father too. Not since Cousin, Cousine, the 1975 French hit, has there been a European film with as cheery an attitude toward promiscuity.

Set against the historical backdrop of the fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, Belle Epoque tells the tale of a sweet but simple army deserter (Sanz) who, after taking refuge at the country estate of an aging painter (Gómez), beds each of the artist's daughters before figuring out which of these ripe beauties he truly loves. That each of the sisters has an agenda of her own for slipping between the sheets (one is a recent widow looking for comfort, a second is mad at her fiancé, a third has sapphic leanings and commits the act only when both are in cross-sexual drag, and the fourth is a virgin who is eager to change her status) contributes to the comedy. Sanz's character is as much used as he is the user.

The talented cast takes a refreshingly gentle approach, going for the laugh rather than the leer. Belle Epoque, which translates as "a time of beauty," delivers a time of fun. (R)

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