Film about a film

by
23 May 2012

by Stephen Brown

iStock

IF EVEN THE RAIN (Cert. 15) doesn’t anger, sadden, and elate you, it hasn’t done its job. That is assum­ing one can read the often bleached-out subtitles.

Cinematic references abound. Early in the film, a moment of irony echoes Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, when a cross suspended from a plane flies over the far-from-sweet countryside in which Sebastián, an idealist director, is making a movie. It is about the Dominican friar Bar­tolomé de las Casas, who opposed the atrocities that Christopher Columbus inflicted on the Taino Indians.

In a too-obvious parallel to that Spanish imperial exploitation, Sebas­tián’s pragmatic producer, Costa, has chosen Cochabamba, Bolivia, as the shooting location, because he can get away with paying contemporary natives just $2 a day. After having cast (for a pittance) an indigenous extra, Daniel, as leader of the Indians who initially welcomed Columbus’s expedition, Costa soon learns that in real life Daniel is spearheading a revolt against selling off the city’s water supply to an Anglo-American corporate. (There were such “Water Wars” occurring in Bolivia on the cusp of the Millennium.) The ten­sion between getting the film com­pleted and the increasingly violent demonstrations against a 300-per-cent hike in water prices mounts.

Other kinds of tension are just as important to the narrative. Gael Garcia Bernal as Sebastián now adds to his impressive catalogue of per­form­ances (The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros) that of the liberal director on the horns of a moral dilemma. Should he carry on shoot­ing his film in order to persuade world audiences to break with the devastating consequences of a con­tinuing Western colonialism? But if Daniel is allowed to persist in the struggle over that most basic of life-sustaining elements, then the film and its crusading purpose are jeopardised.

As the moral fibre of Sebastián and the heroic opponents of exploitation, so convincingly acted, diminishes in the face of trouble, it is left to the drunken Anton (Karra Elejalde) — the film’s Columbus — to maintain his prophetic stance against the cynicism and hypocrisy of a film industry primarily in­terested in making a buck.

Most significant of all is the changing relationship between Costa (Luis Tosar) and Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri). The manipulative producer softens in the face of Daniel’s pro­mot­ing tenaciously and at great cost values almost foreign to our gold-hungry culture. Repentance and recon­ciliation become possibilities.

Even the Rain packs a punch worthy of Ken Loach’s social realism. This is hardly surprising. The public meeting of the demonstrators has more than a passing likeness to a similar scene in Land and Freedom, which the screenwriter, Paul Laverty, also scripted. This is the first time he has worked with director Icíar Bollaín, his wife.

Laverty is a former Roman Catholic seminarian. While he is clear-sighted about the conquista­dores’ appropriation of Christianity to justify foul greed, there is also admiration for Bartolomé. Unlike the Franciscans shown as providing Columbus with theological underpinning for his misdeeds, this lone Dominican with his railing against genocide is portrayed as “the father of international law”. It falls to Bartolomé and the film’s latter-day whistleblower, Daniel, to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

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