I know this may seem like a bit of a let-down for all of you, but WTF Sunday is taking a bit of a break this week. I went to the movies with my roommate this afternoon to see this film on her recommendation. Before it was even half over I knew I just had to write about it. Don’t worry though; I’ve got some wacky shit all lined up for next week.
Like Braveheart, but in Spanish.
In 2000, a Mexican film crew arrived in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to shoot an historical epic about Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World and his enslavement of the indigenous Taíno people. In the role of Hatuey – the leader of the Taíno rebels – they cast Daniel, a local man who also happens to be a leader in the city’s protest against the government’s privatisation of the water supply. While his devotion to this cause threatens to disrupt the film, the filmmakers themselves remain insistent on completing their project, even in the face of growing civil unrest.
After this and Cell 211, Luis Tosar is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. He leads this film as Costa, the producer of the film-within-the-film with Gael García Bernal as Sebastián, the director. At the start of the movie, Sebastián is treated by Costa as if he were a favourite child, with his every wish acceded to. As the movie goes on, Sebastián starts to resemble Fitzcarraldo as his determination to complete his plan teeters into obsession. Costa starts off not much better than the original conquistadors. He isn’t a bad man, just selfishly thinking only of the film and how to keep the costs as low as possible. It was his idea to go to Bolivia at all; even though the story they are recreating took place on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, the production will save a fortune in Bolivia where the locals can be “enslaved” as extras and manual labourers for just two dollars a day1. It is through his growing bond with Daniel and his daughter Belén that his conscience is roused. García Bernal is excellent as always but Tosar completely owns every scene he is in (which is almost every scene in the movie). Among the supporting cast, the standouts are Karra Elejalde and Juan Carlos Aduviri. Elejalde – star of the fantastic Timecrimes – plays Antón, the actor portraying Columbus. Antón is a loudmouthed drunk, but he is the first to sympathise with the plight of the native Bolivians. A late-night conversation between the two men serves as a key moment in Costa’s awakening. This is Aduviri’s first film, possibly even his first acting job ever, but he is completely believable as the underestimated Daniel; a man of will, intelligence and leadership who is pegged as little more than a peasant by almost everyone.
The film was written by frequent Ken Loach collaborator, Paul Laverty, with actress-turned-director Icíar Bollaín at the helm. Bollaín also has a history with Loach, starring in his 1995 film Land And Freedom, about an English communist fighting for the militia in the Spanish Civil War. That one wasn’t written by Laverty though. This film shares the typically Loachian2 themes of socialism (with a small s), labour relations and real human interaction against a larger, politicised backdrop. Similarly, Bollaín follows Loach’s example of casting people who have really lived the story she is telling. It is easy to believe that a lot of the Bolivian cast were involved in some way with the actual “Water War” events that are depicted here.
One particular thing that I liked about this film is something that it is missing: at no point does any character turn to any other and say “Gee, doesn’t this fight with the ruling elite over the water supply bear a striking resemblance to the Taíno’s fight against Columbus that we are here to recreate?”. Unlike so many other movies these days, Laverty’s powerful and emotive script does you the service of assuming that you are not a moron and treating you accordingly. The echoes in the story are easy to see, and each side amplifies each other well, only occasionally leaning towards heavy-handedness. The escalating water crisis is depicted viscerally, aided by the use of footage shot during the riots themselves, included here as news broadcasts watched by the film crew as the action rages on outside their hotel. I’m sorry to say that I was completely ignorant of these real events before today, so the story is clearly one that needs to be told.
One thing I wasn’t overly keen on however was the “making of” element. There is a member of the film crew (I missed her name, I’m sorry to say) whose job is shooting the behind the scenes documentary. As the movie went on, she started capturing less of the filmmakers and more of Daniel in skirmishes with the water company and leading the demonstrations. I was starting to suspect that Costa would ultimately choose to abandon the historical drama and instead turn his associate loose to document the real-life political drama happening behind them. Unfortunately, this entire sub-plot seemed to disappear about half-way through the film.
Even The Rain is currently on limited release throughout the UK and will be available on DVD/Blu-ray by mid-September. For my trans-Atlantic amigos (hi guys!) you can get it now by VOD. Trust me on this: it is worth looking out for.
1I sincerely hope this film’s producers paid their extras more than $2 per day. It would give the message a distinctly sour aftertaste otherwise.
2To those of you saying “now you’re just making up words” let me respond with this: yes I am, but how do you think the rest of them got to be words in the first place?