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A Note on ‘Even The Rain’

The Spanish actress-turned-director Icíar Bollaín has, I’m ashamed to admit, been off my radar.  I haven’t seen her other films, but I am going to now.  Her  latest film, Even The Rain, seems simple when you break down the plot into a succinct synopsis like “A film-maker wants to make a movie but the local political/social turmoil makes it difficult.” However, this film is anything but simple and possesses all the subtlety of a punch in the face. What we end up with from Paul Laverty’s (Sweet Sixteen, The Wind That Shakes The Barley) intelligent, emotional script and under Bollaín’s nearly flawless direction is a multifaceted film rich with complex characters and themes that broach social criticism.

Even The Rain essentially works with three plots that directly impact one and other.  The first two exist in the actual film we are watching starring Gael Garcia Bernal as the ambitious Sebastián, a director with a vision to make a movie about the real events surrounding Columbus colonizing the “New World.”  His efforts, and the efforts of his stalwart producer Costa (Luis Tosar) are continually tested by the second story-line within our main plot; the fictionalized account of Daniel and his involvement in the real Cochabamba Water Wars in which the people rose up against the government as it sought to privatize the water supply back in 2000.  The plot is of the film Sebastián is directing which gives us a visual of the atrocities committed by the Spanish as they forced the indigenous people into slavery and ravaged their land in search of gold.

Costa brought the production to Cochabamba for one reason – cheap labor. The impoverished Bolivians came out in droves to an open casting call overwhelming Costa and  Sebastián. They immediately start turning people away, which is where we first meet Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) and get a taste of his explosive personality. He’s an instigator, demanding that everyone that came to audition be seen, and this display of indignation secures him the role of Chief Hatuey. And then he demands a role for his daughter.  Costa is uneasy with this casting choice, insisting that his volatile disposition will ruin the production and he’ll be too hard to handle, but Sebastián wants that passion for Hatuey.

As a struggling film-maker myself I was fascinated with main plot, but I like movies about making movies (and if you’re the same watch Truffaut’s Day for Night. Brilliance). Bernal and Tosar have a captivating dynamic.  I’ve watched directors like Sebastián, fearless yet insecure in need of a producer as a cheerleader, and I’ve seen producers like Costa who struggle to steer a seemingly frazzled director on the right path in order to finish the movie. But you don’t need to have knowledge of film production nor do you need to be all caught up on your early 16th century history of Hispaniola to enjoy this film.

The film Sebastián is making is based in large part on the writings of Bartolome de las Casas, a priest who witnessed first-hand the genocide committed by Spanish settlers and the execution of Hatuey, a Taíno chief that led rebellions against the Spanish. We cut seamlessly into the film within the film which causes an effective confusion in the audience.  When the Taíno revolt against the Spaniards it takes the audience a minute to understand it is part of Sebastián’s film.  Without a change in camera movement or visual style I at first thought the extras, which were being paid a slave-wage of $2 a day, had revolted against the film crew.  This directorial choice creates a connection with the past treatment of these people and the current treatment by the film crew. Similar choices were made when staging the violent protests against the Bolivian government.  Daniel puts the film in jeopardy as he helps lead the uprising in Cochabamba and we witness the events cut seamlessly with actual footage of the protests in 2000.  Again this creates a parallel between the exploitation by the Spanish colonials and exploitation of a people in an impoverished area by the millionaires in the government and multinational corporations.

As the protests escalate and the three story lines continue to develop they become entrenched in each other. You can see on Daniel’s face during the filming of the scenes with Columbus and the Spanish that he is connecting the long history of oppression to his own life.  He is the Hatuey of Cochabamba and there are moments when you know he was inspired by the script Sebastián is shooting.  As Sebastián and Costa become more concerned that the protests will shut down production they become desperate, almost heartless, as they try to force mothers to perform in scenes they morally object to, as Costa tries to bribe Daniel to abandon the protesters until shooting has wrapped and as they spring Daniel from jail to film the final climatic scene of the movie.

The performances by Luis Tosar and Juan Carlos Aduviri are incendiary. Tosar handles the character change in Costa with a veteran’s control. He’s the de las Casas of Even The Rain, who comes to Bolivia as part of the problem with dreams of cheap labor and a product that will bring personal wealth, then slowly discovers that there are more important things than money and the film. Aduviri is an animal, a man who attacks acting with a raw intensity that becomes the stand-out performance in the film. Even in his moments of silence there is strength in his Daniel, there is a viciousness to his Hatuey.

Bartolome de las Casas wrote that when Hatuey was finally captured he and other Taíno were burned on crosses. One priest asked Hatuey if he would repent so he could go to Heaven, to which Hatuey asks “Are there Christians in Heaven?” The priest responded “yes,” to which Hatuey retorted, “then I’d rather go to Hell. I don’t want to be around such cruel people.”  At this moment in the film the writing, directing and cinematography are at their best, almost Herzogian in scope as men are burnt over a sweeping landscape. (That’s right, Herzogian, I’m using his name as an adjective, so what, it’s the most accurate description, watch Fitzcarraldo).  Immediately after shooting the scene the local government arrives to arrest Daniel, effectively ending the shooting of the film and the crew needs to decide if the lives of the men they’ve been exploiting for cheap labor are more important than their film.

The film is not without its flaws, but they are so minute it would only diminish this cinematic achievement to discuss them.  When I’m not seeing comedies (I’m finding I’m more from the Sullivan’s Travels cloth) this is the sort of drama I go to movies for.  Nearly epic, beautifully shot, intelligent and relevant.  It addresses the exploitation of inhabitants in third-world countries by multinational corporations that would claim they’re nowhere near as ruthless the Spaniards; whether you kill a people slowly by hoarding their key resources or do it swiftly with genocide you’re still killing the people.  The key creatives were so tuned into the subject matter that they didn’t shy away from their own hypocrisy.  The Western ideals that were set forth by the Spanish (conquest and personal wealth) permeate all aspects of Western culture, not excluding film-making.  In this manner the film made me consider Herzog again and the horrific stories I heard of the mistreatment of locals on the set of both Aguiree: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Of course Herzog stories could be simple folklore, but it’s not limited to just him.  Rumors of exploiting local street kids and impoverished non-actors have surrounded production like Salaam Bombay, Slumdog Millionaire and City of God, and in Even The Rain Bollaín and Laverty allow their critical eye to be turned on themselves as film-makers.

Even The Rain is much more than a critique of an endless cycle of exploitation in the West that began with Columbus landing in Hispaniola.  This is a film of hope and optimism. I don’t want to discuss in too much detail what transpires, it will spoil the beauty of the film’s journey, but I can promise it won’t disappoint. (or if you think it does disappoint let me know and I’ll tell you what you missed).

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