A film within a film within a film, Even the Rain holds up a hall of mirrors to the Third World and invites us to look in. What we see is fractured but fascinating, a clever mix of deliberate distortion and piercing clarity. There's a whole lot going on here, perhaps too much, as the mirrors do their work, overlaying the painful lessons of revisionist history onto the brute realities of contemporary politics. It's all a bit too schematic, yet the ambition is admirable and the message powerful: Today, no less than yesterday, the weak must be strong to survive, and their strength is endlessly tested.
The place is Bolivia in 2000, where a Spanish film crew descends on the city of Cochabamba. They've come to shoot an epic about that far more fateful arrival five centuries ago - Columbus's "discovery" of the New World, his subsequent plundering and mistreatment of the indigenous people, and the lone voice of a Dominican priest raised in conscience. Sure, the location is historically inaccurate, but production costs are much lower in Bolivia and the locals, already lining up in mass to land work as extras, are a vast source of cheap labour. As a crew member succinctly notes, "It's always about the money".
Well, you can see the parallels shaping up: Two invasions in very different times, the earlier in the cause of empire, the later in the name of art, both in pursuit of profit. The artist in question is Sebastian the director (Gael Garcia Bernal), the brains behind the project and a sensitive fellow with ostensibly liberal convictions. He's quick to engage in some neo-realist casting, hiring Daniel - a city-dweller with "a strong face" - to play the Indian who led an ill-fated rebellion against those conquistadors of yore. By contrast, Costa the producer (Luis Tosar) is the brawn of the operations, the arch-pragmatist who gets things done on time and within budget. His sympathies are exclusively with the bottom line.
Occasionally, a Spanish woman shows up with a video camera, shooting a Herzog-like documentary about the making of the film. She makes her own discovery: that Daniel is also leading a real-life protest against a current multinational encroachment. These are the "Water Wars" of Cochabamba, erupting when the government launched a policy to privatize the water supply, to "sell off our rivers, our lakes, even the rain that falls." The protests are an actual fact of the time; the fiction here is that the latter-day Spaniards get caught up in the conflagration.
What follows is an intricate mélange of sequences shot for the epic movie, the behind-the-scenes machinations of cast and crew, plus the developing drama of the popular uprising against the water policy. That's quite a to-do list and the script (by Ken Loach alumnus Paul Laverty) strains on occasion to keep all the segments credible - they overlap rather too conveniently. But that strain is relieved first by the remarkably fluid direction of Iciar Bollain Perez-Minguez, who's careful to shoot each layer in a matching style; and, second, by a uniform set of superb performances.
And the acting is crucial because, along with everything else, this is also a character study. There's a crucial transformation here, as Sebastian sacrifices his liberal ideology to protect his precious art, even as Costa sacrifices his precious budget in pursuit of a higher principle. Their separate paths intersect in a surprisingly suspenseful climax when, in the midst of a whip-smart treatise on exploitation, a damn good action flick breaks out. Did I mention there's a whole lot going on here?
Consequently, take care not to overlook this quiet little scene that speaks eloquent volumes: The film crew have been invited by government officials to a welcome luncheon. Outside, the protests are just starting up; inside, the chatter is polite but pertinent. Sebastian asks a politician how an impoverished populace, whose average salary is $2 a day, can possibly afford the water rate hike. The official smiles and, all charm, inquires in turn how much the production is paying its extras. The faux-liberal sheepishly replies: "$2 a day, but I'm on a tight budget." Snaps back the voice of power: "Aren't we all."
Even the Rain
- Directed by Iciar Bollain Perez-Minguez
- Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Luis Tosar
- Classification: 14A