The exploitation of indigenous peoples is, alas, a story as old as history itself. In Icíar Bollaín's Even the Rain (Tambien La Lluvi), a storm-tossed Spanish drama set in Bolivia at the turn of the new millennium, the crimes of interlopers are seen in both past and present iterations.
A movie crew has set down in Cochabamba to shoot a new version of the story of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World. Right from the get-go, the director, Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal), and the producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), encounter trouble. They have advertised an open call for extras to play the Taino natives that rose up against the Spanish explorers. Thousands show up, and when the filmmakers try to turn part of the crowd away, they are challenged by an angry local who brandishes the company's flier: Everyone will get a chance.
This small, intense man, Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduvir), speaks with such passion and persuasion that Sebastian - against his better judgment - casts him as the Taino chief. And so, the production is off and running: re-creating Columbus' landfall and the sailors' meeting with the natives.
But Daniel is also the leader of a group of citizens protesting the government's move to privatize the city's water company. Water rates have become prohibitive. Protests start to take place in the streets. The police clamp down. Tensions mount.
Bollaín, who began her career as an actress, knows the workings of a movie production intimately, and the details here are dead-on: a table read where the actor playing Columbus (Karra Elejalde) switches startlingly, mesmerizingly into character; a videographer (Emma Suárez) earnestly shooting a "making of" documentary; cast rebellions; logistical woes.
Even the Rain becomes a little too obvious as it tacks back and forth between the on-camera reenactments of Columbus' rapacious forays and the Bolivian power elite's move to wrest water rights from its citizens and to stifle rebellion. Of course, the government is in league with multinational utility corporations.
But by grounding the story in the personal - in Bernal's and Tosar's characters' conflicted agendas, sympathizing with the protesters and yet wanting desperately to get their movie made, and the way in which Daniel, the Bolivian Indian, exploits the filmmakers for his own political purposes - Even the Rain strikes a deep and resonant chord.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
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