Over two hundred hopeful film extras are lined up on a dirt road waiting for a chance to earn some extra cash. Sebastian, the director, (Gael García Bernal) pulls up in a van with the rest of his Spanish crew in tow. Costa (Luis Tosar), the producer, tells Sebastian that there is no way they can see all of them, that an open call was a stupid idea, and reminds him that time is money. Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a local who has come with his daughter, is determined to at least audition and threatens to stay as long as it takes for the director to see every single person who showed up for the call. Daniel’s passion and aggression capture Sebastian’s attention and land him the main role of Hatuey, an Indian who, in the 1500s, led a group of natives in the fight against invading Spaniards.
Even the Rain (Tambien la Lluvia) is a movie about low-budget filmmakers who travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia to make a film about the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. They choose Bolivia because they need cheap extras to play the role of the Indians who Columbus encountered on his arrival. The young and ideological Sebastian is determined to show the world a different side of Columbus, a side that portrays the explorer not as a hero, but rather as a heartless invader ready to take advantage of anyone and everyone to further his reputation as a bold explorer. Even the Rain, it should be noted, was inspired by the late Howard Zinn’s best-selling alternative history of the U.S., A People’s History of the United States, which opens with the barbaric slaughter of natives by the explorer who thought he had discovered a water passage to the Far East.
The shoot gets off to a smooth start, but things get complicated when the movie-within-a-movie’s extras and main character, Daniel, all Cochabamba locals, rise up to fight the privatization of Bolivia’s water. Thus, Sebastian’s battle to make his film deftly intertwines with the fight of the Bolivian crew members, who are deprived of basic human rights and are prohibited from collecting even the rain.
One can easily get caught up in the parallel stories the film presents: the very real Bolivia of 2000 when, during what is known as the Water Wars, protesters took to the streets in response to the private sector’s takeover of their water supply versus Sebastian’s retelling of Columbus’ atrocities in the Americas. Neo-Colonialism versus Colonialism. As the film (and the film-within-the-film) progress, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between reality and fiction, past and present.
This past December, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the director, Icíar Bollaín.
Bollaín, originally from Madrid, has been in the film world since her teenage years, variously taking on the roles of actress, screenwriter, and director. Her film (written by Paul Laverty) was Spain’s submission to the Academy Awards for 2010 and was shortlisted in the foreign films category. The film is now being screened across the United States.
March 1, 2011