Cine Las Americas 2011
By Don Simpson | April 18, 2011
Director: Icíar Bollaín
Writer: Paul Laverty
Starring: Luis Tosar, Gael García Bernal, Karra Elejalde, Carlos Aduviri
Even the Rain was made “in memory of Howard Zinn”, and it was Zinn whose book A People’s History of the United States studiously informed many of us about Christopher Columbus’ true legacy of genocide and enslavement. In director Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain, Sebastián (Gael García Bernal) is the righteously idealist director who shares Zinn’s revisionist perspective on Columbus; thus Sebastián has set out to debunk — by way of the all powerful cinema — the conservative myths surrounding Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Sebastián cares first and foremost about Columbus’ obsession with gold, involvement with slave-trade, and punitive violence against any Indians who refused to convert to Christianity. Sebastián then opts to counter Columbus’ story with the tales of two priests — Bartolomé de las Casas (Raul Arevalo) and Antonio Montestinos (Carlos Santos) — who spoke in defense of Indians, acknowledging them as fellow human beings. (It is worth noting that Paul Laverty’s script purportedly grew out of his joint attempt with Zinn to film the life of Bartolomé de las Casas.) There is also an underlying obsession with Hatuey (Carlos Aduviri), the first Indian to be crucified for resisting Spanish imperialism and Christianity.
Antón (Karra Elejalde) — the actor portraying Columbus in Sebastián’s film — accuses Sebastián of creating masturbatory agitprop with the end goal of merely manipulating the film’s viewers; from where we are sitting, it seems as though Antón might be on to something. Sebastián and his frugal producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), may be no better than Columbus in terms of the way they carelessly exploit the Bolivian natives. Did I just type Bolivian? Is this not a film about Columbus? Did Columbus ever visit Bolivia? Well, due to Costa’s unabashed thriftiness, Sebastián is forced to film in Bolivia, the Latin American country with the cheapest production costs. As an added bonus, Bolivia is also the most Indian — never mind that these Andean Indians (Quechua) are a drastically different kind of Indian from the native peoples Columbus encountered in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). During the production, Sebastián repeatedly puts his film above everything else, therefore jeopardizing the very same ideals that he attempts to enshrine within his film.
Sebastián’s production primarily takes place in and around the city of Cochabamba (you may or may not recognize this Bolivian city from “Cochabamba Water Wars” that occurred here between January 1999 and April 2000), where it soon becomes apparent that civil and political unrest is reaching a boiling point. Violence quickly escalates as the entire water supply of Cochabamba becomes privatized and is sold to a British and American multinational. (Leading to the real “Cochabamba Water Wars”, the World Bank declared it would not renew a $25 million USD loan to Bolivia unless it privatized its water services.)
Thus the Quechua are being oppressed on many levels. On one level — within Sebastián’s film — they are being oppressed by Columbus in the name of Christianity and Spain; on another level they are being oppressed simultaneously by Sebastián and Costa as cheap labor in the film, as well as the foreign multinational corporation who co-opts their water supply; on a third level by Bollaín, who — similar to his character, Sebastián — is for all intents and purposes using the natives for his own personal gain. (Actually, whether Bollaín is critiquing himself or opening himself to criticism is merely a matter of opinion.) It is the classic struggle of David versus Goliath, but this time it’s meta.
From the very moment that Bollaín cleverly references Fellini’s iconic image of Christ dangling from a helicopter (La Dolce Vita), it is readily apparent that Bollaín has no intentions of being subtle with his actions or politics. Even the Rain is a political film that quite blatantly takes political filmmaking to task. As much as I love politically-conscious films, it is rare that I like films that are as politically obvious as Even the Rain; I typically prefer more subtlety, for instance, the use of subtext or metaphors to discuss politics. Nonetheless, Even the Rain works primarily because of its fluidity and nonchalance in confronting Bollaín’s agenda. Past and present, reality and fiction coalesce organically, no matter how coincidental and purposeful the situations may seem.
Even the Rain was selected as the Spanish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards; it made the final shortlist of nine films, however, it was not among the final five films nominated for the Oscars.
Cine Las Americas recently presented an advance screening of Even the Rain at the Regal Arbor Cinema (Austin, TX).