Spanish social drama ‘Even the Rain’ loses sight of unifying theme

Even the Rain, or, in its original Spanish, Tambien la Lluvia, doesn’t make us work too hard to understand its symbolism: In Spanish director Iciar Bollain’s film, two of the main characters, Mexican film director Sebastian (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and his executive producer Costa (played by Luis Tosar), are shooting a movie in Cochabamba, Bolivia, about Christopher Columbus’s first encounter with the New World. To play the indigenous Americans that first interact with Columbus, they have hired several dozen local Bolivians. That Bolivia is a landlocked country several hundred miles away from where Columbus first landed and that the indigenous language the Bolivians speak in addition to Spanish is Quechua, rather than Taíno, doesn’t seem to matter to the filmmakers: The extras are cheap labor, and they keep the production costs low. They cast a man named Daniel (played by Juan Carlos Aduviri) to play the Taíno chief Atuey, an indigenous rebel leader.

The film proceeds to tell two stories at once. The first is that of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, as interpreted through the eyes of the white Mexican and Spanish men who are in charge of the film’s direction, production, script and actors. The second is of the oppressed locals in Bolivia, who are facing water privatization that has made the prices of water soar. Daniel connects the two plotlines, in that when he’s not playing Atuey, he is the leader of massive and increasingly bloody demonstrations against the Bolivian government. His involvement is a huge risk for the production: Without Atuey, they cannot finish the film, which is already beginning to overrun its apparently nonexistent budget.

Though it has some beautiful shots of the Bolivian landscape and touches on some genuinely disturbing topics, this is a film that seems uncertain about its theme. It doesn’t fully explore either the hypocrisies of portraying Columbus and the Spaniards as heroes (though the filmmakers do try to show, on a limited scale, the horrors faced by the Native Americans), nor does it look too deeply into the struggles of the Bolivians. The film tries hard to be indirectly moralistic, often devolving to what seems like a high school game of trivia, as the director tries to give us information about the horrid treatment of the Native Americans as if it were a very well-kept secret being divulged for the first time.

While the actors give convincing performances, the characters themselves are pretty thin. Aduviri is adamant as Daniel, but his character barely speaks outside of the film: Is he a silent hero or a public figure? Despite all the chaos surrounding him and his failing picture, Sebastian does not seem too affected; he mostly simply broods about his unmet expectations. Though he seemed to be a promising character at the start of the film, by the end he is essentially written off. The money-pinching Costa shows the most emotional range of the characters: It’s unfortunate that he’s relegated to the Dances With Wolves white-man-savior cliché by the film’s end, when he comes to the “revelation” that he actually cares about the people he is filming. It is a forced conversion amidst the drama of a demonstration gone out of control, but at least it provides us with a personality.

Ultimately, the film benefits from an easily relatable story and strong lead and supporting performances (even if they don’t have many places to go). As it turns out, the Cochabamba demonstrations were based on a true story: The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 resulted in the reversal of the privatization of the city’s water supply company. The subplot in the movie, which could have made a great film in its own right, unfortunately fails to effectively complement the main story arc. In his review column for the Chicago-Sun Times, Roger Ebert makes an astute observation: “We can only wonder how fairly the extras and supporting actors for Even the Rain were paid in comparison to its stars.”

Even the Rain was screened in Bronfman Auditorium by VISTA, the College’s Latina/o organization, as a part of several VISTA-hosted events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I was definitely in good company: It was an extremely inviting experience and the film, while it didn’t quite fulfill my expectations, was at the least entertaining.