By Myriam Ghattas
“Tambien La Lluvia” (Even the Rain, 2010) is, on the surface, a movie about the making of a movie. As such, it is a film that could have easily fallen into the familiar narcissistic trap of cinema directing its camera lens onto itself for inspiration, oftentimes with disconcerting results.
Yet, the present film not only escapes said trap, it further succeeds in taking the spectator on an adventure where the setup of the story is merely a vehicle to discuss a more pertinent subject: The scarcity of water in this case or, on a bigger scale, the growing problem of the dilapidation of natural resources exacerbated by the capitalistic ventures of giant multinational conglomerates making a bid on anything bankable while disregarding the local populations’ struggle for survival.
The movie opens with a film production crew arriving in a rural town near the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia to cast large numbers of “cheap” extras for the film to be made. We soon find out that their film is a period piece about the struggle of Bartolome de Las Casas, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus, who, as a priest, became impassioned with countering the evolution of abuse that accompanied the slow process of colonization ensuing shortly after the arrival to the New World at the expense of the native American tribes present there at the onset.
As the production develops and the filming starts, compelling parallels occur between the Las Casas story being told. The core conflict is driven by a greedy search for gold on the part of the Spaniards, and the reality of the production team themselves when confronted with their extras’ pre-existing harsh conditions. This is further aggravated by their fight against a multinational trying to take away the water they need for their basic survival needs; their government predictably endorses this “privatization” process.
Paul Laverty — long-time collaborator of Ken Loach — writes and Iciar Bollain directs this movie based on real events that took place a little over a decade ago in Cochabamba, the third biggest city in Bolivia, in a similar fight for water against a multinational supported by the Bolivian government. At that time, the inhabitants of the city demonstrated their determination and devotion to their cause by enduring many deaths, injuries and arrests during fights and protests that lasted several months until they scored a rare win against the multinational.
“Tambien La Lluvia” explores the ever-present comparison of globalization, the antecedent form of colonization. The film also eloquently poses the problem of progress versus human rights.
Three characters are at the core of the movie. Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), who plays the part of the heroic Native American rebel Hatuey in the historic film, serves as the catalyst for the conflicting ethical responses that occur over time between Costa (Luis Tosar) and Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal), the producer and director of the production team respectively.
Bollain directed her film on site in Cochabamba and appealed to the local population to participate in the recreation of the scenes of battle that had taken place during the “Water Wars” of the year 2000. The local population, with a been-there-done-that attitude, obliged enthusiastically and delivered a heated performance with very little direction. An interesting question that possibly arises may be how much Bollain’s film production paid its own extras. By the same maneuver that the filmmaker uses to tell the story in her film and develop her point, one can’t help but wonder, was it fair use or abuse?
Another strange coincidence of reality mirroring fiction is Bollain’s predicament during the shoot of her film. Production came to a standstill for the exact same reason that the director character in the narrative, Sebastian, was constantly threatened of losing his production of the Las Casas film: Aduviri’s poor health in real life matched his character’s Daniel persistent involvement in the water battles in the film, making him subject to withdrawal from both productions at a moment’s notice were he to get more ill or get arrested, depending on which film we’re talking about.
Anecdotal diversion set aside, one must contend with a lot of information and ethical problems occurring on multiple levels and take a more knowledgeable stance. The film is certainly a rare instance of a Spanish individual telling the Columbus story from the victims’ perspective rather than from the victors’.
“Tambien La Lluvia” resembles a tame version of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) with a contemporary dialogue for a twist. It is a movie that, at the very least, incites the spectator to self-reflect. In the movie we watch, the Las Casas production cast and crew make a film about indigenous people being wronged centuries ago, yet that same team is at a loss for an appropriate course of action when facing the plight of the descendants of the Native Americans whose story they tell. The atonement that period dramas about horrific events seek to achieve for the filmmakers and their audience is thus called into question when current events are simply being watched from a distance but never engaged with directly. Where does the suspension of belief associated with the work of art end and where does engagement begin? A lesson in integrity.
“Even the Rain” is screening as part of the fourth Panorama of the European Film on Nov. 24 and Nov. 28 at Stars cinema and Nov. 29 at Galaxy cinema.