In the year 2000, the US engineering company Bechtel signed a contract with the then President of Bolivia to privatize the water supply of the country's fourth-largest city, Cochabamba. Bechtel tripled the water rates in Cochabamba, literally making the price of a drink of water unaffordable for the city's indigenous citizens. Protests were met by state police and armed private security. Riots ensued. The people of Cochabamba broke the contract and drove the foreign corporation out of their country. These true events are the backdrop for Even the Rain (También la lluvia), a Spanish language film from Irish/Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty (Bread and Roses, The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and Spanish actress-director Icíar Bollaín (Take My Eyes). The film is at once clever, poignant and timely, which, along with star Gael García Bernal (a proven draw with North American audiences), should provide a platform for better than average box office success for a foreign language film.
Sebastián (Bernal) is an idealistic director attempting to realize his dream of making an epic about the arrival of the Spanish on South American soil, and the chain of woeful events that have befallen the native peoples (Quechuas, Aymaras, Chiquitano, Amerindian and Mestizo) at the hands of Europeans ever since. Along with his producer Costa (Luis Tosar, Limits of Control, Take My Eyes), he auditions hundreds of natives and chooses Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) to play the role of Hatuey, an actual historical figure who faced the Spanish invaders 400-years ago. Costa warns Sebastián that the novice actor Daniel will be trouble, "I can see it in his eyes," he warns. And so can the audience. Aduviri, who is himself a novice actor, is brilliant as Daniel and as Hatuey, a warrior Quechua who will not yield to the Spanish King, the Pope or the Christian God. Aduviri's face is not a face often seen in western cinema. It is a monument of bereavement to every aboriginal soul—past, present and future. As a dramatist Aduviri is the equal of any western actor from Bardem to Franco.
In addition to acting in Sebastián's film, Daniel is a leader of a band of indigenous people who are fighting to retain their water rights (though the company Bechtel goes unnamed in the film). Working on the film with his beloved daughter Belen (Milena Soliz, also exquisite), Daniel's war-painted Hatuey is an agitator who asks why and says "no" to the Spanish. In parallel, Daniel himself is a fierce protest organizer, rallying the resistance of the people while facing down the authorities, often with bloody results. These parallels run side-by-side throughout the film: 400 years ago it was gold, today, water. Each time, the natives suffer.
Even as Sebastián and Costa and the rest of the cast wallow in the liberal pretensions of the progressive film they're making, they are exploiting the very people they portend to extol. It leaves one to wonder if the producers of Even the Rain paid the natives they hired to play natives a living wage.
It is a hypothetical irony that verges on surreal.
As the water protests evolve into water skirmishes, the production of the film is threatened and the ideals of the filmmakers fall away. They sacrifice Daniel as the Spanish sacrificed Hatuey, each, ultimately, for the price of a certain kind of gold and a particular idea of God. As the skirmishes become full blown riots, sides are finally chosen. Sebastián, the idealist filmmaker, takes one route; Costa, the strategic Producer, chooses another.
Director Icíar Bollaín handles both of her films beautifully. The film within the film is an epic action drama with majestic performances by Karra Elejalde as Columbus and Carlos Santos as Bartolomé de las Casas, both historical figures. They are each different personas as Anton and Alberto, actors caught-up in real events, in a movie about true events, historical and contemporary. Bernal and Tosar are exceptional as well.
This sort of filmmaking is what the medium was created for.
Distributor: Vitagraph films
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Tosar, Karra Elejalde, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Cassandra Ciangherotti and Carlos Santos
Director: Icíar Bollaín
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Producer: Juan Gordon
Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Running time: 103 min
Release date: February 18, 2011