“I’m excited to share with you the trailer for the new and controversial limited series which I produced. Santa Evita is based on a real-life story almost impossible to believe,” posted Salma Hayek in late June, revealing Instagram stories about the series and the performance of her star, Natalia Oreiro.
In just a few posts, the Mexican actress and producer’s account became another example of what the figure of Eva Perón means. From praises to detractors’ comments and in some cases people who took the term “santa” (saint) literally without understanding why the journalist and author Tomás Eloy Martínez chose it to entitle the book he published in 1995.
The book has now become a series, shot in this city, which is set to premiere on the same day in 27 countries worldwide. It is worth noting that the novel has sold some 10 million copies to date and has been translated into 30 languages.
If the book was somewhat controversial at the time of its release, even among characters from across the Peronist spectrum who believed it heresy for Martínez to choose to focus on the desecration of Evita’s body, this series revives these passions, at least on social networks.
In fact, there is more than one scene where the near total nudity of Eva Perón’s body will be a bit shocking to many but which reflects the vindictive insanity uniting those who were in charge of hiding her body to keep it from becoming what it would eventually become: a myth which transcended Argentina and 70 years after her death (an anniversary marked on July 26) continues to arouse passion, fervour and hatred, but never indifference.
In her skin
“I feel very emotional, very grateful”, Natalia Oreiro said at the world premiere this week, with the projection of the first episode of Santa Evita at the Teatro Colón opera house.
“I feel we are telling a very important part of the story. To personify such a strong and brave woman fills me with pride and I took on this challenge with huge responsibility but mostly with a lot of heart. I gave my heart and soul to the character,” she added.
There were two “Evas” in Argentina (both fictional, incidentally), portrayed on the one hand by Nacha Guevara in the successful musical and by Esther Goris in the movie. There have also been other actresses who played her on stage. But the two aforementioned thespians concentrated on the most common references.
And that is why, in the first series about Eva, there was an additional challenge coupled with Santa Evita premiering on 26 July in 27 countries to an audience which, as stated there by Diego Lerner, the CEO of Star+/Disney Latin America, covers 100 million households or 300 million viewers.
“Building the character was a process which took many months, a very deep journey,” Oreiro explained.
“I was accompanied by two women, María Laura Berch and Mariana García, my two personal coaches (…) I had to dive into her history, trying not to imitate her, naturally, because it was a performance, but I did want to be able to show her strength, her fragility, her conviction and also her pain because she went through very difficult times as well. It was an unforgettable experience which I think will stay with me forever (…) And I’m very proud to know that this series will be watched worldwide. It’s a very local thing with an international brand. That possibility bespeaks the scale of the production and talent in Argentina to make films, television, series...”
Much of the series was filmed during the pandemic. Some archive footage was used for historic moments, notably the mass demonstrations, for instance, on the day of her famous renunciation of a vice-presidential candidacy or her wake. And there are key locations shot “by moving location.” – for example, the Huracán stadium – in Parque Patricios– became the Luna Park arena to recreate the renowned fundraising rally for the San Juan earthquake, where the Peronist liturgy claims Juan Domingo Perón fell in love with Eva. This has a different outlook in the series.
And at Sans Souci palace, in San Fernando, the Unzué mansion where Evita lived and died was recreated. This property was located where the National Library is today in Recoleta but its demolition was ordered by those who ousted Perón in 1955 (there is some archival footage of its façade) as they feared it would become a sanctuary for Peronists. This was extremely difficult, taking into account the political and human violence exercised by those who took power after Perón fled first to Paraguay and then to Spain.
There are also a couple of key scenes whose images give power to the insanity around the people with the mission to conceal the body until it ended up in a cemetery in Italy, buried under another name. And it is there where something depicted all throughout Tomás Eloy Martínez’s novel is shown, the emergence of shrines with candles and Eva’s picture, as though marking the “presence of absence.”