The new film Even the Rain does a service for right-leaning audiences in the opening seconds.
The screen flashes “In Memory of Howard Zinn” before any actors appear on screen. Right away, you know the Spanish import will wear its anti-capitalism on its sleeve, but like the better ideological movies it doesn’t let demagoguery mute its storytelling instincts.
And the film offers fleeting moments of self-awareness which make the ideological tonic easier to quaff.
This film within a film ostensibly covers the making of a feature on Christopher Columbus, one that highlights the more barbarous actions of his legendary journey. But the real story is set amidst the 2000 peasant strikes against a private firm buying up water rights in Bolivia, a move which meant “even the rain” couldn’t be collected for free.
The Motorcycle Diaries star Gael Garcia Bernal plays Sebastian, the driven director trying to make his Columbus film under challenging conditions. The budgetary constraints are the least of his concerns. The crew chose the town of Cochabamba for the backdrop unaware of the tumultuous political backdrop. A private company has taken over the local water supply and is charging rates the poor locals can’t afford. The locals, in turn, are taking to the streets to protest the move.
Sebastian’s predicament gets worse when he decides to hire a local named Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) to play a key role in the production. Daniel may have an intensity that’s perfect for the part, but he’s just as impassioned about the water issue embroiling his neighborhood. Every time there’s a citizen uprising Daniel is right there, imploring his “comrades” to resist.
The film’s no-nonsense producer Costa (Luis Tosar) isn’t swayed by the water protests. He’s got a job to do, and he’ll do whatever is necessary to get it done. If that means bribing a local official or two, so be it.
But the showdown between government security forces and angry citizens looks unavoidable. That won’t just shut down the film production. It could put the lives of the cast and crew in real danger.
Even the Rain benefits from vibrant casting, particularly with Aduviri’s turn as the fiery resistor. His angular face often stays unchanged, but it has a haunted look that serves both the character and his plight. Some actors, like Ben Affleck, can look stiff in repose. For Aduviri, saying nothing speaks volumes.
The film crew prove a resourceful lot, and when a key figure has a serious change of heart about the situation at hand it plays out in credible fashion. That subplot also powers the final 25 minutes of the movie, adding tension to an already involving story.
Director Iciar Bollain can’t resist staging moments that put an exclamation point on the project’s political bent. Consider one sequence where the film crew sip fine champagne while outside locals are protesting the high price of simple water.
And the comparisons between Columbus’ exploitative ways and how a modern company is doing virtually the same to the locals is a theme that’s pounded into the viewer. A more nuanced storyteller would have rendered the theme in more subtle shadings.
Bollain lets us see snippets from the film in progress without a filter. There’s no camera shown capturing the action or other hints that this is a film shoot. That gives the scenes more power — and more ways to reinforces Rain’s ideological bent.
“We will enslave you … and do as much harm as we can” the film’s Columbus warns the natives in one early sequence.
Yet Even the Rain acknowledges how films like this can work on several levels, an awareness many left-wing films lack.
“This isn’t art. It’s pure propaganda,” says the actor playing Christopher Columbus in Sebastion’s film during a heated dinner conversation centered on the movie’s politics.
Often in ideologically driven films the “bad guys” aren’t allowed to speak coherently. They exist simply to let the hero appear noble by comparison. Here, one of the local officials explains the pro-privatization position without being made to look foolish.
Even the Rain shrewdly doesn’t deify the locals. When a water company car drives past them and stops, a group of angry citizens trashes it without mercy. And Daniel is far from a saint. He’s stubborn, unfriendly, and single-minded. And he uses the film’s crew with impunity.
Zinn would surely be pleased by Even the Rain. But the film’s bald ideological currents cannot overshadow the story playing out within that context.