mon 22/04/2024

Even the Rain | reviews, news & interviews

Even the Rain

Even the Rain

The ghost of Columbus (and Loach) haunts a film set hit by ethnic tension in Bolivia

Latterday Fitzcarraldo: Gael Garcia Bernal in 'Even the Rain'

Perhaps it’s not a strange coincidence that this week brings two films about the precious commodity that is water. (The other is The Source.) More than oil, more than land, certainly more than ideology, one day the thing mankind will fight over is access to the element without which life is unsustainable.

Written by Ken Loach's sometime scriptwriter Paul Laverty, Even the Rain is an impeccably liberal study of ownership of the water supply that doubles as a parable about modern imperialism. Two morality tales for the price of one, it also wags its finger at big-budget film-makers who visit the Third World, take what they need and leave behind only carnage.

The idea is based at least partly on historical events: in Bolivia in 2000 there was huge civil unrest over access to water. Fiction is bolted onto fact in the form of a Spanish film company, led by idealistic director Sebastián (Gael Garcia Bernal) and pragmatic producer Costa (Luis Tosar), who descend on Bolivia to shoot a movie about Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas. Being in Spanish, and shot by a young filmmaker eager to investigate the nuances of good Columbus vs bad Columbus, this is to be nothing like the pair of Hollywood movies made 20 years ago to celebrate the 500th anniversary (1492: Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, starring Marlon Brando). Only it gets off on the wrong foot when most of a huge crowd who have queued to play extras have to be turned away. This causes a young firebrand called Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri, pictured below) to complain and immediately land the part of Columbus’s chief tormentor Atuey, despite the producer’s warning that no good can come of hiring a troublemaker.

In rehearsals at the hotel a schism soon opens up in the cast between those who regard Columbus as an economic rapist – led by the hammy old wino in the lead role (Karra Elejalde) - and others as a Christian do-gooder who treated the natives with reasonable restraint. Naturally this mirrors the historical division in Columbus’s original party. Meanwhile, trouble brews off set as the national water company deprives the locals of access to a water pipeline they have built for themselves. Protests grow ever more violent and widespread until both the ethical scruples of the film-makers and finally the shoot itself are under threat. The only way they can spring the rebels’ cheerleader from jail to shoot the climactic scene, in which Atuey is burned at the stake, is to bribe the authorities, on the condition that Daniel is handed straight back. This is too much for the director, while the producer has been all for tacit exploitation from the off. “I’m not a fucking NGO,” he tells a crew member who wants to shoot a documentary about the water protests.

The parallels between Columbus’s quest for gold and the contemporary fight over water are worked hard by Laverty. The Bolivian government is peopled by pale-faced descendants of the original conquistadors who, while not burning their victims at the stake, still continue to treat the indigenous people as uppity troublemakers. Nor does the film we see in production stint on portraying the brutality of the invaders. Indeed, these are the moments in which director Icíar Bollaín truly impresses.

In the end, Even the Rain doesn’t quite deliver its promise in the Damascene volte face undergone by the two main characters. A movie producer turning out to be the one with the conscience may be a stretch, but the obsessive director who puts his movie above human life verges on the preposterous. A whey-faced Bernal simply doesn’t have the heft to convince as a latterday Fitzcarraldo convinced that his film will last forever. “How the fuck did Disney pass on this?” says one of the actors drily. Actually, in its eagerness to pat itself liberally on the back, it isn’t a million miles from Pocahontas.

Watch the trailer to Even the Rain

Follow Jasper Rees on Twitter

The parallels between Columbus’s quest for gold and the contemporary fight over water are worked hard by Laverty


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters