Modern film crew repeats history's mistakes in the gripping new film, 'Even the Rain'
History repeats itself in alarming, ironic, and yet inevitable ways in the adroit Spanish drama Even the Rain. This story of a modern Spanish movie crew descending on a remote Bolivian town to shoot a historical film exposing Christopher Columbus' mistreatment of the indigenous people in the New World becomes a textured, multi-layered study of the many guises of exploitation.
The film is directed with wit and intensity by Icíar Bollaín, a renowned Spanish film actress who has segued into a career behind the camera. Screenwriter Paul Laverty, longtime collaborator with English social realism director Ken Loach on films like My Name Is Joe and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, lived in Central America for three years, working for a human rights organization. Bollaín and Laverty met during the shoot of Loach's Spanish Civil War drama Land and Freedom. Together, they craft a wry and gripping tale that suggests how little things have changed in 500 years.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Sebastian, an earnest young filmmaker obsessed with telling the myth-busting true story of the tragic collision of Columbus and his Spanish invaders with the native inhabitants. (He's based his script on actual texts of letters, sermons, log entries, and other factual accounts.) He arrives in Cochabamba, Bolivia, an inland town on the edge of a rain forest, with his tough, pragmatic head of production, Costa (Luis Tosar), and a few vans of personnel and equipment. They're drawn to the area by its lush locale, and its proximity to a village of impoverished local people they can hire cheaply to play the "Indian" extras in the film.
The entire village shows up for the open casting call, their line snaking down the street. The most vociferous among them, Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), demands that the crew honor their PR fliers and interview all of them. Costa thinks Daniel is a troublemaker, but Sebastian thinks he's perfect for the major role of a native who rebels against the Spanish, and hires him. What the film crew doesn't realize is that the local people are embroiled in a real-life battle over water rights—and Daniel is their leader. The government has contracted with a private company to take control of the water supply, charging the people exorbitant yearly rates to use it. Even collecting their own rainwater is now illegal.
Within this simple, yet effective, framework, three parallel stories unfold. Sebastian and Costa resort to ever more Faustian bargains to protect their investment in Daniel and finish their film. Meanwhile, the people, fighting for their lives over access to water, employ evermore desperate measures to obtain justice, from rallies and demonstrations to blockading the town. And in the film-within-the-film, the attempts by Columbus, his missionaries and conquistadors to subject the local people and fleece them of their resources, leads, predictably, to rebellion—which, in turn, provokes a terrible reprisal from the Spaniards (in this case, burnings at the stake).
Laverty's script is wise to the degrees of exploitation practiced against native people by centuries of outsiders. Welcomed without violence, the Spanish conquistadors immediately impose a tax of gold from the natives for the privilege of living in their own land. Sebastian portrays one Bartolomé de las Casas, a monk in Columbus' party, as a hero for his sermon denouncing the Spaniards' mistreatment of their Indians, but Antón (Karra Elejalde), the actor playing Columbus, points out that de las Casas never once questioned the authority of the Spanish to enslave them for the crown.
Director Bollaín weaves between her modern story (a shot of a gigantic wooden cross looming ominously above the forest while being airlifted to the film set is worthy of Werner Herzog), footage from Sebastian's film, and "backstage" interviews shot by the company videographer, to piece together a compelling tale of history, politics and redemption. Aduviri is marvelous as Daniel, with his haunted face and stoic moral purpose. The bond his character forges with Tosar's brusque but evolving Costa becomes the center of this deft and satisfying film.
EVEN THE RAIN ★★★
With Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, and Juan Carlos Aduviri. Written by Paul Laverty. Directed by Icíar Bollaín. A Vitagraph Films release. Not rated. 105 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.
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