Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Even the Rain (May 14th and 15th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[EVEN THE RAIN screens Saturday May 14th at 9:40pm and Sunday May 15th at 6:30pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Sebastian (Gael García Bernal ) is a director who wants to make a film about how Christopher Columbus and the rest of the Spanish colonists who “discovered” North America exploited and abused the indigenous population. The filmmaker is so committed to his particular vision that he turned down potential investors who wanted him to shoot the film in English. Sebastian's motto is, “The film comes first, always.” Columbus and his men spoke Spanish; so will the actors who play them.

Forced to work with a smaller budget than expected, Sebastian's producer Costa (Luis Tosar) decides to make the film in Bolivia. There he can get the locals to work as extras and unskilled labor for a mere two dollars a day, and without any pesky rules about workplace safety. If Sebastian is aware of the irony, he doesn't show it.

The situation is volatile from the moment Sebastian arrives at the production offices. An open casting call threatens to turn into a protest when the applicants are told that some of them will have to leave. Sebastian defuses the situation by promising everyone a chance, but it soon becomes clear that, while labor may be cheap, there are other costs to doing business in Bolivia that Costa hasn't considered.

In addition to the European actors who make up most of the film's primary cast, Sebastian hires Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) and his daughter (Milena Soliz ) for a pair of important parts. The two do an excellent job, but problems arise when Daniel becomes involved in protests over water rights while the film is still shooting.

Sebastian is moved by the protests, but not enough to put the concerns of Daniel and the other locals ahead of his movie. He reasons that, “This confrontation is going to end and be forgotten, but our film is going to last forever.” As Sebastian and Costa fight to finish their movie, Daniel and his daughter fight for their very lives as the political situation threatens to explode into violence. Eventually an event takes place that forces Sebastian and Costa to choose between their own self interest and doing the right thing.

EVEN THE RAIN is dedicated to the late historian and social activist Howard Zinn, and its themes are Zinn's themes brought to life in the form of a gripping drama. Of course, that's a lot like what Sebastian set out to do, and in some ways that could make the film a commentary on itself. Aren't director Icíar Bollaín and screenwriter Paul Laverty trying to make a film to raise awareness about important issues in the world, too? What makes them any better or worse than Sebastian?

One assumes that Bollain and Laverty were aware of this conundrum. Realizing that there's no way to get around it given the subject matter, they simply forged ahead and made their movie, trusting that the quality of the work would speak for itself. Which, for me at least, it does. 4 out of 4 stars.

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