EVEN THE RAIN (Tambien la lluvia)
Icíar Bollaín’s bluntly political film “Even the Rain” makes pertinent comparisons between European imperialism five centuries ago and modern globalization. In particular it portrays high-end filming on location in poor countries as an offshoot of colonial exploitation.
A movie crew led by a director named Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), arrives in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to film a historical epic about Christopher Columbus and his conquest of the Americas. But Sebastian doesn’t intend to film another mythologized portrait of the early explorer; instead he’s focusing on Columbus’s oppression of indigenous populations and the efforts of two little-known priests to object to their Christian brethren’s brutal attempts at conversion.
Having chosen to film in Bolivia because of its cheap labor costs, Sebastian and Costa proceed to cast locals in roles as supporting players and extras; for the part of Hatuey, the first Indian literally to be crucified for resisting the Spanish and Christian empire, they cast Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), who is leading his own protest against water-privatization interests that threaten to charge money for “even the rain.” Thus do the stories of imperialism past and present interweave, with uncannily common threads and sometimes confounding philosophical knots. (“Even the Rain” is dedicated to the historian Howard Zinn, who collaborated with screenwriter Paul Laverty in developing the story.)
The year is 2000, and Costa is unprepared to deal with the real-life populist uprising in Bolivia after its government has sold the country’s water rights to a private multinational consortium. Local wells from which the people have drawn their water for centuries are abruptly sealed. Riots erupt when the rates charged by the water company prove ruinous. The rebellion ends only after the protests have brought Bolivia to a standstill and the company has withdrawn. The title, “Even the Rain,” refers to the notion that catching rainwater would be illegal.
Just as Costa and the film crew arrive to make a high-minded, myth-shattering exposé of Columbus’s exploitation and suppression of native populations, hostilities between Bolivian peasants and the government are about to explode. For Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), the project’s idealistic director, the movie-to-be is a chance to subvert the myth of Columbus as a heroic New World explorer by portraying him as a rapacious, greedy perpetrator of atrocities and a despoiler of nature.
Costa has no interest in the people of Bolivia and is overheard boasting on the telephone to a financier that the clueless extras are thrilled to be paid as little as $2 a day. During the casting process a rebellion flares up when Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a fiery young Indian who traveled a long distance with his daughter to try out for the film, insists on an audition even though the roles have been filled. He makes such a fuss that hundreds of others who had lined up for hours without being tested are given a chance.
Daniel, a charismatic firebrand, wins the role of Hatuey, a Taino Indian chief who spearheads the rebellion against Columbus’s forces. When Daniel is not being filmed in the movie, he leads the protests against the new government-protected water company. Arrested and beaten up, he is temporarily freed only after the filmmakers intervene.
By asking whether it’s possible to make a feature film about poverty and remain morally consistent, “Even the Rain” bravely calls into question its own existence. A powerful, richly layered indictment of the plight of Latin America’s dispossessed that cunningly parallels the Spanish conquest of the Americas with the 20th-century spread of capitalism.
“Even the Rain” is splendidly panoramic. The scenes of Columbus’s arrival and of his imperialist and religious sloganeering, and of the carnage he wreaks, have a grandeur and a force reminiscent of Terrence Malick films. The segments about the chaotic water riots have a documentary immediacy.
Directed by Icíar Bollaín; written by Paul Laverty; director of photography, Alex Catalán; edited by Ángel Hernández Zoido; music by Alberto Iglesias; production design by Juan Pedro de Gaspar; costumes by Sonia Grande; produced by Juan Gordon; released by Vitagraph Films. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
WITH: Luis Tosar (Costa), Gael García Bernal (Sebastian), Juan Carlos Aduviri (Daniel/Hatuey), Karra Elejalde (Anton/Christopher Columbus), Carlos Santos (Alberto/Bartolomé de las Casas) and Raúl Arévalo (Juan/Antonio de Montesinos).