Film of the week: “Even the rain” by Icíar Bollaín (Review & Trailer)

04/03/2011 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment


By Chris Barsanti
Chris Barsanti has been a Filmcritic reviewer since 2002.
A director shooting a gripping epic about the tyranny of Christopher Columbus gets a lesson in humility in Icíar Bollaín‘s potent satire about First World humanitarian hubris running up against Third World realities. Ironies pop like flares against the deceptively cozy film-about-a-film structure (a modern-age trope given layered resonance by having the whole production being shot by an earnest documentarian). Though the film as a whole is about as subtle as an anti-imperialist polemic by Howard Zinn — it’s actually dedicated to the late, truculent left-wing historian — and not without some serious structural flaws, its burning spirit has an unimpeachable potency.

Playing another variation on one of his holy fools, Gael García Bernal is Sebastien, a Spanish writer/director obsessed with telling the true story of a 16th-century Dominican monk who railed against the bloody terror wrought by the conquistadors on the New World’s natives. While Sebastien appears at first to have a creative purity of spirit, the film’s first scenes make clear how much he’s willing to compromise in order to get his film made. Driving through the Bolivian mountains with his producer, Costa (a solid, enigmatic Luis Tosar), Sebastien complains at first about how little the mountainous setting and Quechua locals will have in common with his script’s coastal plains and Taino natives. A blustery Costa waves off such details, bragging instead about how much money they’re saving by shooting in the Bolivian boondocks. Sebastien acquiesces with little resistance, hinting at a long history of slightly begrudged compromises and a spirit that sees itself as the reluctantly commercial artist.

Paul Laverty‘s screenplay shows the filmmakers’ arrogance early on, with Costa and Sebastien at a casting call where they tell most of the gathered locals to leave, no matter how far these desperately poor people have walked. This incurs the wrath of Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri, quietly engaging, with a burning gaze), whose fury not only wins the argument but gains him the role of a Taino rebel leader in Sebastien’s film. Costa’s bean-counter warning that Daniel will be “trouble” for the film appears to come true when the budding actor is arrested for leading an incendiary protest against a water privatization scheme.

Laverty toggles between the filming of Sebastien’s epic, with European actors in heavy period garb either pretending to brutalize the extras or making soul-stirring soliloquies about the evils of colonization, and the filmmakers’ attempt to keep the tension over water privatization from derailing their film. The ironies are laid on thick, with Sebastien telling a pro-privatization politician that it must be hard for the locals to pay for the water while only making two dollars a day, only to have the politician point out that that was how much Costa was paying their extras. By laying the high-flying rhetoric of Sebastien and his cohorts against their craven-seeming refusal to get involved in the actual anti-imperialist struggle erupting around them (preferring to hide in the safe, easily-resolved moral struggles of the past), Laverty creates one of cinema’s most vicious critiques of limousine liberalism.

While the script’s lacerating satire and Bollaín’s non-showy but still bracingly beautiful filming have the makings of a grand mock-epic (like if Werner Herzog had shot a remake of Roland Joffe’s The Mission, the too-well-meaning tale of 17th-century Jesuits battling Portuguesa slavers), it trips over its own feet in the final third when the previously cynical Costa begins to take a real interest in Daniel’s community’s battle for economic liberation. Like in Laverty’s screenplay for the half-successful Irish Civil War film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, here his instincts for making points chip away at the dramatic momentum. Also, the more inexplicably heroic that Costa becomes, and less that Daniel is given to do, the more the film comes perilously close to playing into its own critique of guilt-stricken Europeans more obsessed with their own virtue than those they are ostensibly trying to help.

Source: Film Critic

Entry filed under: FILM OF THE WEEK, LATIN AMERICAN FILM. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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