Even the Rain (2010)

I am not very good at writing reviews. I find things I read or watch fall into three categories: Amazing! Good. Bad/Horrible/Whatever. So lets see if I can put a bit more thought into these categories, as I rarely spend too much time analyzing why I like or hate something.

Wednesday afternoon I went to see Even The Rain, a Spanish film set in 2000 about a film crew making a movie about Christopher Columbus’ exploitation of the indigenous population of the Caribbean. Due to financial considerations, the crew is actually going to be filming outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Unknown to them, the government is in the process of privatizing the water supply, which will lead to the Cochabamba protests (I didn’t know what they were either, until I Googled them).

Luis Tosar plays Costa, the film’s director. Costa came to Bolivia because he can hire extras cheap — the only way he’d have the budget to make the movie otherwise would be to “film in English” (and presumably, in that case, financed by a major Hollywood studio). Costa doesn’t actually want to be in Bolivia, evidenced in a scene where he demands a long line of Bolivian would-be actors be turned away. Fortunately, Sebastián (Gael García Bernal) wants to honor a pledge that everyone who turned out would be seen, and discovers Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) who is cast as Hatuey, who leads the resistance to Columbus’ rule.

Even The Rain is a film with leftist sympathy (this should be obvious to anyone who pays attention to the Howard Zinn quote at the end of the trailer, or for that matter, that the film is dedicated to him). Fortunately, the movie doesn’t bludgeon the audience over the head with its moral: “Look! Columbus came and exploited people for gold! And now other people are exploiting the natives for water!” For example, I think Aaron Sorkin is a great writer, and I generally tend to agree with his politics, but watching just about anything he’s written can be uncomfortable because he just beats his message into his audience’s head with a cinematic baseball bat. Fortunately, writer Paul Laverty and Icíar Bollaín (mostly) avoid this trap.

It’s interesting how the movie-within-the-movie parallels the events unfolding in the real world. It’s interesting how the actors in the film show their colors through the increasingly perilous situation: I’m thinking mostly here of a scene at a restaurant where one actor teases the others for trying to learn how to say certain words in Quechua. The film crew’s association with their characters is a fractured reflection of the events they’re witnessing to unfold. Anton, playing Columbus (and portrayed by Karra Elejalde), takes pride in revealing the hippocracy of his cast-mates, who take pride in the noble characters they portray for their role in speaking against Columbus’s excesses, yet cower from emulating their heroes. It’s Daniel who exists in the same role in both film, and riots. Where the wealthy and well off can afford to debate matters over cocktails (witness the scene with the city’s mayor, who when being told that peasants can’t afford the water increase, replies to the effect that the film company could always increase their pay for extras), the peasants are always on the wrong side of the stick.

The one big negative for the film are the subtitles. Not, mind you, that’s it is subtitled, but the subtitles themselves, which are in a thin white or light-yellow font (I’m pretty sure they change color in the latter half of the film to yellow). While perfectly legible on a dark background, particularly towards the end, the subtitles became very difficult to read. It’s annoying trying to watch the film while having to squint to make out the subtitle. Usually, I don’t mind subtitles, I just sort of absorb them when watching the film, and I’m sure that’s a difficult balance to meet: subtitles legible enough to be easily read, but not so attention grabbing that they interrupt the movie-viewing experience. Also, I was completely thrown by a scene where the two leads have a conversation in English with their Scottish financier. For a split second I thought I’d absorbed enough Spanish to be able to understand the language without the subtitles — osmosis for the win!