By Leah Zak | The Playlist January 24, 2011 at 4:35AM
The film about filmmaking is a theme that has certainly been visited before -- as visual mediums go, movies seem to love taking the opportunity to talk extensively about their glamorous selves -- but “Even the Rain,” a picture that could easily fall into the action genre as well, takes its navel-gazing to a bit of a deeper level; not so much a send up of the truly ridiculous elements that go into the making of any film (see our coverage of The Envelope’s Director’s Roundtable for proof of that) but more of a motif and palette from which to explore two different times, but with eerily similar injustices towards basic human rights.
In Icíar Bollaín’s “Even the Rain” Gael Garcia Bernal plays Sebastian, a director who brings his crew to Bolivia to tell the tale of Christopher Columbus coming to the Americas, and the natives that stood up to their conqueror’s suppression. Sebastian’s producer Costa (played with a wonderful combination of scowl and tenderness by Luis Tosar) is along for the ride, as well as the rest of the crew, and a cast of both Spaniards and local Bolivians, chosen from hundreds to play the native people. However, a wrench is thrown into production when the man cast as the leader of the rebellion in Sebastian’s film (Daniel) turns out to be going totally method: he is also the primary voice of a rebellion against the Bolivian government’s subsidization of their people’s water. From wells to rain buckets, the government is slowly buying up or outlawing any natural water sources in the Bolivian people’s villages -- so they can sell it back to them.
And thus the parallels of oppression. As tensions escalate both in Bolivia and in the film, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize when we’re watching one and not the other; a pretty brilliant device for the filmmakers to continually ask their question: “have we not seen this before?” Part of the effectiveness of this dramatic technique is the quality of Sebastian’s epic. Often the films within films of this particular device are over the top, played up for satire. But the story of Columbus is as earnestly and beautifully told as “Even the Rain” itself. To watch Daniel and his neighbors be violently suppressed by Columbus and his priests on screen, only further dramatizes the fight that they actually go home to once cameras stop rolling, and with some choice editing, the line between these two stories is effectively blurred.
In the last act, everything falls apart, as the rebellion turns into an all out war on the streets of the city, and the film’s crew must head for the country, or back to Spain. However, the ties and connections that they have made with their Bolivian cast leads Costa back into the center of the violence to save one of the little girls featured in the film -- and also redeem himself. The only conflict in 'Rain' without an obvious good guy/bad guy is that of the production and rebellion, Sebastian's artistic passion matched with the political one of Daniel. In many ways the film is justifying both sides, but in an effort to not make too many comparisons between Columbus and the filmmakers, let's them off easy, by sending Costa into the fray and giving Sebastian the chance to realize that his determination, in the context of rebellion, might be somewhat misplaced. But we digress. The question here is not of the merit of art in a violent and injustice society, it's the realization that no matter how many strides we take in that society, there will always be someone more powerful to use and abuse those below them.
While "Even the Rain" has moments where it becomes as melodramatic as that last sentence, this is ultimately a well made and engrossing picture. Amongst the contenders on the Oscar for Best Foreign Pictures short list, it is certainly a strong one, and a film that should definitely be sought out when its released stateside this spring. [B]