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Even the Rain

Catherine von Ruhland

Directed by Iciar Bollain
Certificate 15, 107 minutes, DVD

When, in 1995, Ismail Sebageldin, the World Bank's Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development declared, 'The wars of the next century will be about water'  he probably did not mean on the dot of millennium year. But in 2000, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, water bills rose by up to 300%, costing poorer families a quarter of their income after private firms took over the supply and sanitation system. Following civil unrest, the government cancelled contracts and renationalised services. Even The Rain is set amidst this civil crisis, but the clever film-within-a-film script emphasises that the struggle for self-determination against dominant forces is not new to the South American people.

It is 2000, and an idealistic director, Sebastian (The Motorcycle Diaries' Gael Garcia Bernal) and producer, Costa (Luis Tosas) are in Cochabama to shoot a film about Christopher Columbus' violent impact on the 'New World'. When the pair scan for film extras at an open casting of local Quechans Indians, they encounter a huge queue of more people than they would ever need - and old colonial patterns reassert themselves. Only the protest of bolshy local activist, Daniel (a film-stealing and award winning Juan Carlos Aquviri), who with his daughter and two-thirds of the rest is about to be turned away, ensures that everyone is seen as promised.  

Sebastian recognizes Daniel's fiery spirit as ideal for the role of Hatuey, leader of the Tainos who first encountered Columbus and was burnt at the crucifix.  When in the sky above the queue a helicopter then appears carrying a huge cross beneath it, rather than the sense of Christ leaving the scene as in the opening of La Dolce Vita, the crucifix here appears as a threat. For Columbus ensured that the Christian God became someone for the Indians to revile. But it is fascinating to hear re-enacted the Dominican padre Antonio Montesinos' stirring 1511 sermon 'Are these not men?' on behalf of the indigenous population; it has 21st-century native set-builders entranced during dress rehearsals.

Bollain intimately captures the struggle between conscience and action in enclosed spaces such as hotel rooms. She shows Sebastian arguing over cost versus art with the blatant moneyman Costa. Money on the screen equals hordes of $2 a day Quechens, while Sebastian grumbles about the incongruity of Columbus meeting 'Indians from the Andes'. Yet we watch Sebastian's artistic integrity ossify as the film overshadows the people involved. Costa, on the other hand, develops humanity, finding money has a moral, positive purpose and the locals on his film are so much more than he imagined. This is a film that recognizes that positive political change is worth fighting for and possible, but it is also equally hopeful in capturing how any one of us can choose to do the right thing whatever our past choices.

Catherine von Ruhland

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