Friday, March 11, 2011

In Theaters: Even The Rain

Directed by Iciar Bollain

The Grade: A-

When the Academy Award nominations were announced this year, many were puzzled at the absence of Even the Rain from the Foreign Film nominations, and now I understand why. Selected as the official entry from Spain, the film actually takes place in Bolivia during the water supply protests of 2000. Gael Garcia Bernal and Luis Tosar play Sebastian and Costa, the director and producer (respectively) of a Spanish film crew who journeys to Bolivia to make an epic movie about Columbus’s voyages to the Americas and his exploitation of the native population. Choosing Bolivia for its appropriate scenery and cheap labor, a local named Daniel is cast in the pivotal role of an Indian who leads an insurrection against Columbus. But as the water company stiffens the price on the local supply, fact and fiction begin to blur as Daniel leads a protest against the local authorities, saying that if the people refuse to act, then “even the rain” will be taken from them.

The opening scene shows a helicopter transporting a giant wooden cross high over the Bolivian countryside, and we’re immediately reminded of the opening of the Fellini classic La Dolce Vita, in which a large wooden Jesus is flown over a Roman beach. This is clever foreshadowing, as La Dolce Vita was partially about the self-absorption inherent within the activities of the upper class—a theme that would repeat itself in Even the Rain. A fascinating tale about the summoning of morality, it’s also somewhat reminiscent of the underappreciated Gulf War film Three Kings, as we see well-to-do foreigners initially try to exploit local resources for selfish ends before getting swept up in the problems of the populace and forced into choosing a side. But even Three Kings didn’t have the successful dual narrative employed here, as the central conflict of the characters in the fictional Columbus film echo what’s happening in the real life of the extras cast in it. During one scene of the film within a film, an advisor says to Columbus “Look into an Indian’s eyes. Are these not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as yourselves?”

Written by Paul Laverty, the Scotsman who wrote 2006’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and directed by Iciar Bollain, a popular actor and director in her native Spain, Even the Rain creates realistic drama that moves us without ever manipulating us, and the characters each find themselves at a crossroads where their actions will forever define who they are. Bollain uses an interesting tactic during the Columbus film scenes of not allowing the film crew to be seen, thereby lending a greater level of gravitas to the fictional portion of the meta-narrative. The proceedings feel especially poignant because of the beautiful score by Alberto Iglesias, the great Spanish composer who works mostly with Pedro Almodovar, but who also received Oscar nominations for The Constant Gardner and The Kite Runner. The only complaint I can really levy is that the brisk 98-minute running time might have been too short.