Even the Rain (Vitagraph Films, NR)

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Daniel provides the radical voice of the indigenous peoples and as such proves to be trouble on the film set as well as in the streets.

 

 

 



Life and art collide and combine in Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain, the Spanish nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars (it made the cut for the top nine films but not the top five). As the story begins, a film crew led by director Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) and producer Costa (Luis Tosar) is in Bolivia to make a film about Christopher Columbus and the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Why the landlocked country of Bolivia? Because the locals will work for $2 a day, and most of the film’s audience won’t know the difference between brown-skinned people from the Andes and brown-skinned people from any other part of Latin America.


All true, but working in poor countries has its risks also, and the film crew arrives in the midst of the Cochabamba Water Wars. Bolivia, as required by the World Bank, is in the process of privatizing the water supply of its third-largest city, a change that will impose a 300 percent increase in rates that is simply unaffordable for the region’s poor. Another consequence of privatization will be imposition of a monopoly prohibiting locals from getting water from any other source; the film’s title refers to an accusation that the multinational corporations involved want to take “even the rain” away from them. This impending privatization of one of life’s most basic necessities is being resisted by street protests that are met with violent police response, and over the course of the film this conflict will escalate.


Parallels quickly become evident between the script of Sebastian’s film and current conditions in Bolivia. The former focuses on the ultimate futility of efforts by the priests Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos to force the Spanish empire to recognize the humanity of the indigenous peoples of the region. In the 21st century, descendants of those same indigenous people are still oppressed by light-skinned Bolivians of European descent who see them, if not exactly as less than human, then as nuisance factors not really worth worrying about.


A second set of parallels arises when the local man Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) is hired to play the Taino chief Hatuey who leads a rebellion against the Spanish invaders. When he’s not on the film set Daniel is a leader of the water protests, and when he is arrested and jailed the filmmakers are confronted with a dilemma—they need him to complete their film but they also need the cooperation of the Bolivian military and police. This forces Costa and Sebastian to have the first of several debates over their obligations as human beings versus their desire to get their film shot and get out of the country.


At first Costa appears to be a stereotypical producer, full of self-importance and concerned only with the film, while Sebastian is more of a soft-hearted liberal who is idealistic (he believes Father Montesinos was “the first voice of conscience against an empire”) but with limitations (a Bolivian official points out that Sebastian believes in social justice everywhere but on his film set). In opposition to both, Daniel provides the radical voice of the indigenous peoples and as such proves to be trouble on the film set as well as in the streets. In a telling early scene Costa brags on the phone, in English, about how cheaply the Bolivian Indians will work, not realizing that Daniel spent two years in the U.S. and can understand every word.


Even the Rain takes a delight in exploring the different ways of seeing an event—live, through the eyepiece of a video camera, and as projected or broadcast in either a rough or edited version. Which of these is the true version, the film seems to ask, or are there a multiplicity of truths and whoever holds the most power gets to inflict his version on everyone else? Paul Laverty’s script is a bit predictable, particularly toward the end of the film, but superb cinematography by Alex Catalan and editing by Angel Hernandez Zoido keep it from becoming a static series of debates. Instead, Even the Rain is one of the most interesting films I’ve seen this year. | Sarah Boslaugh
 

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