Although it didn’t go as far as it could have, Even the Rain successfully portrays people who are driven by what they believe, regardless of the consequences. This is presented on a few narrative levels, the most obvious being the reliable film within a film technique; in the year 2000, Spanish filmmaker Sebastián (Gael García Bernal) is on location in Cochabamba, Bolivia to film a biopic about Christopher Columbus, which will depict his first voyage to the New World. Striving for historical accuracy, Columbus is scripted not as a pioneer and explorer, but as a conqueror out to profit from the exploitation and religious conversion of the indigenous population. The film would also be about Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, Dominican friars who at first went along with, but then opposed, the Spanish colonists’ mistreatment of the natives. The actors playing these roles have opinions on the matter, both in front of and behind the camera.
But subtler levels are also at play, and they point to an inescapable conclusion: Although over 500 years have passed, rich countries continue to exploit Latin America. The focus is an actual event, namely the Cochabamba Water Wars of 2000; mismanagement of the city’s municipal water supplies, exacerbated by multinational corporate participation, led to a massive rate increase and water cutoffs. This resulted in demonstrations so numerous and confrontational that they effectively halted the city’s economy for four straight days. Even the Rain shows this conflict from the perspective of a local named Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a key figure in the protests. He has also been cast in Sebastián’s movie as Hatuey, a Taino chief who led a revolt against the Spanish.
The primary character is Costa (Luis Tosar), Sebastián’s producer, whose insensitive penny pinching led him to Bolivia in the first place; it makes good financial sense to shoot a movie in one of South America’s poorest countries, since, for a measly $2 a day, the locals are willing to work long hours as extras and as cheap labor behind the scenes. Daniel was cast for his passion and his piercing stare; Costa is wary of him, for he caused trouble during the casting call and is taking a great risk associating himself with the protesters. But Daniel is not one to put his beliefs on hold, not even for the three-week movie shoot. He is eventually arrested, and it will take a lot of coaxing – and by coaxing, I mean cash and a promise to return him – to get him released. A crucial scene has yet to be filmed, and without that scene, the movie might as well not be released.
Forming an opinion on Sebastián is difficult. His film obviously has a point to make about past injustices, and on the basis of rehearsal scenes and glimpses of the actual shoot, it’s clear the screenplay was written from a liberal and sympathetic point of view. But condemning a less progressive period of history is easy, especially when you were never a part of it. Sebastián, a man of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, is making a film that casts a critical eye on a time and place unknown to him; when it comes to the atrocities of the present, however, he sees them as little more than a roadblock on his path to success. He doesn’t want his cast or crew distracted by the events plunging Cochabamba into chaos; all he wants to do is finish his movie. A war will end, he says at one point, but a film lives forever.
An intriguing but sadly neglected subplot involves Maria (Cassandra Ciangherotti), who follows the crew around with a handheld camera, documenting the making of Sebastián’s movie. As the locals begin protesting, she sees the potential for a substantial documentary, one that could potentially expose the world to the plight of the Cochabamba people. Costa refuses to let her go through with it, since it would mean having to finance another movie. The opportunity to add another layer to the film’s narrative structure was overlooked; it would have been fascinating to see Maria develop as a filmmaker in her own right, driven by an obsessive need to capture the plight of the Cochabamba people and reveal it to the world.
I was also somewhat disappointed by Costa, who, through Daniel, exemplifies the Amazing Grace principle – someone who was lost but now found, blind but now sees. Considering how this character had been developed for most of the film, a transformation this sudden and severe seems unlikely. We watch as he concerns himself with the safety of Daniel’s family, specifically his young daughter, who was also cast in Sebastián’s movie. Costa and Daniel will eventually have a conversation that’s competent and yet contrived to the point of obviousness. Scenes like this exist more in the movies than they do in real life, and considering the fact that the film aims to draw parallels between past and current injustices, that can only lessen the experience. Regardless, Even the Rain is compelling, not merely as a film within a film, but as an examination of personal and political fixations.
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