Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 25, 2011

Even the Rain

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:03 pm

“Even the Rain” is a deeply radical but flawed film now playing at the Angelica in New York that is still worth seeing.

It is about how the Spanish production company working on a film about Christopher Columbus replicated his colonialist expedition in Cochabamba, Bolivia during the water rebellion of 2000. Like the foreign water company in search of profits, they picked the site because extras could be hired for $2 per day. With a dedication to Howard Zinn and a script written by Paul Laverty, who has written screenplays for Ken Loach in the past, the film would seem to have all the right intentions.

The film’s strong points surely outweigh its flaws. The acting is first-rate, starting with Gael García Bernal as the director Sebastian. Bernal played Che Guevara in “Motorcycle Diaries” and you can’t help but make the connections between Che’s ill-fated Bolivian guerrilla struggle and the Quechuan extras that Sebastian empathizes with. Sebastian finds himself in a running battle with Costa (Luis Tosar), his producer, who is concerned only with the bottom line rather than the needs of the extras.

One of the extras is Daniel, who is cast as Hatuey, the Indian who led a rebellion against Columbus. He is played Juan Carlos Aduviri, a Bolivian Aymara who teaches screenwriting in El Alto. Aduviri’s performance is reason enough to see the movie, he is brilliant. As Hatuey, Daniel has this dialog with a Spanish priest who is offering the soon-to-be-burned leader eternal salvation in the movie within a movie:

Priest: Become a Christian and you will go to heaven. Refuse and you will go to hell.

Hatuey: Are there good Christians in heaven?

Priest (smiling): Yes, my son.

Hatuey: Then, I choose hell.

Another powerful scene has the film crew sitting around a dining table discussing the ethics of hiring Bolivians for $2 per day. The actor playing Bartolomé De Las Casas, the Dominican priest who took up the cause of the indigenous people, argues that they are like Columbus’s crew, once again exploiting the innocent. The actor playing Columbus, a well-known actor with a serious drinking problem as well as a bitter cynic, derides De Las Casas, arguing correctly that the priest advocated that African slaves be used to mine gold rather than the Indians. His point, however, was not so much to condemn De Las Casas as to rationalize their own abuse of the extras.

Midway through the filming, Daniel becomes one of the leaders of the water rebellion, much to the dismay of Costa, the producer. If Daniel is jailed, the filming will not be able to go on. This becomes the central dramatic tension, as well as an opportunity for screenwriter Laverty to make some basic political points.

Now for the criticisms.

While I understand Laverty’s need to situate the film in Cochabamba, I could not help but feel that this made no sense at all, even if it was based on the availability of cheap labor. Bolivia is a totally land-locked nation. How in the world can you make a movie about Columbus’s expedition to the island of Hispañola when there is no nearby ocean? In one scene, we see a replica of one of Columbus’s ships in a warehouse. At that point I became obsessed with the question of what they planned to do with it. I kept thinking of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”, a story about a vicious rubber baron who dragoons Indians into hauling a steamship into the mountains of Peru in order to reach an inland river that has access to rubber trees. In many ways, Herzog’s movie is even more emblematic of the ties between European film companies and colonialism since members of the crew were seriously injured during filming.

The other problem is transformation that Costa goes through in the film’s conclusion that essentially has him risking his life on behalf of an extra who has been seriously wounded during the water protests. There is simply too abrupt a shift in his character to be believable. One day he is ripping off his extras and on the next he is a latter-day De Las Casas.

Despite these problems, this is a film that political people will enjoy. That means you obviously.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for drawing your readers’ attention to this very moving film. I saw it several months ago at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

    Hundreds of people came out here and they enjoyed the film thoroughly, presumably each drawing whatever political conclusions seemed right to them.

    Perhaps the most important political point might be the continuity of the struggles in the past, the ones which, in Bolivia helped bring Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in the history of Latin America, into office, and the ongoing struggles in our times.

    Walter Lippmann
    Hotel El Moka
    Las Terrazas, Cuba

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — February 26, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

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