Programme Note: Even the Rain
Please note that this article contains spoilers.
Icíar Bollaín takes a socio-realist approach in Even the Rain, highlighting the similarities between her directorial work and that of British director Ken Loach, whose long-time collaborator, screenwriter Paul Laverty, penned the story, a film-within-a-film set against the 2000 water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
The war in question occurred as a result of the government's decision to privatise the city's municipal water supply, partly due to pressure from the World Bank, who threatened to halt payment of a much needed loan should they refuse. With the poorer portion of the public unable to pay the water rate increases, riots broke out, with several people being killed and many injured. The stringent new laws imposed meant that even collecting rainwater required a licence – hence the title. Bollaín's film is not the first to have been inspired by these events; the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (dir. Marc Forster, 2008), also drew upon the Bolivian water crisis.
Luis Tosar (Cell 211, dir. Daniel Monzón, 2009) and Gael García Bernal are Costa, a Spanish producer, and Sebastián, a young Mexican director, who have travelled to Bolivia to make their film, a historical epic that offers a revisionist view of Christopher Columbus' time as governor in the Caribbean in the 1500s. Bollaín sees a direct correlation between the exploitation of the indigenous people at the hands of these early colonialists, and their treatment by the contemporary government. In an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle she stated, ‘it was the gold 500 years ago, and now it's the water, which is the gold of the twenty-first century. Before it was the Crown of Spain and the pope who approved the conquest. Now it is the new theologians, the IMF and the World Bank.’[i]
The filmmakers do not emerge unscathed either. An early scene sees Costa arguing the financial benefits of their choice of location, particularly the availability of cheap extras and labour. Keeping costs to a minimum takes precedence over everything; as Costa says, ‘it's all about money.’ As the long queue of men, women and children hoping for a chance to appear in their (unnamed) production proves, there is no shortage of people clamouring for the opportunity to earn some money, despite the paltry wage, a mere $2 per day. Later on, as the locals protest the massive water rate increases, the filmmakers' hypocrisy becomes evident as Sebastián berates a government official for providing the people with the same meagre pay.
There are many ethical issues raised in Even the Rain, and few are easy to solve. Despite the seemingly noble intentions of the filmmakers, who want to draw attention to the brutalities suffered by the indigenous at the hands of Columbus, all done in the name of Jesus Christ and the crown, they seem oblivious to the irony permeating their own methods in producing this important work. While initially apathetic to the plight of the locals, they begin to support the ethos behind the protests, particularly as they come to know some of their extras. As Bollaín shows, it is much more difficult to ignore hardships endured by an individual than it is to ignore the collective problems of the masses. Yet when Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), a shrewd, angry and outspoken man whose role as an important revolutionary in Sebastián's film mirrors his involvement in the protests, insists on continuing to fight against the government, Costa's only solution is to bribe him, while Sebastián's liberal views quickly disappear at the thought of being unable to complete his film. Their selfish belief that the film should take priority over a fight for possibly the most basic human necessity seems as petty as Columbus' desire for gold is greedy.
By providing viewers with news footage of the Cochabamba riots, interwoven with both the fictional journey of the filmmakers, and scenes from their own production, all of which blend together seamlessly, Even the Rain has a distinct and deliberate documentary style. Both Bollaín and Laverty's past works emphasise the potential for social commentary within fictional film; Bollaín's previous directorial efforts draw attention to a range of social problems, such as unemployment (Mataharis, 2007), domestic abuse (Take My Eyes, 2003), and immigration (Flowers from Another World, 1999). Her uncompromising approach to controversial and difficult topics compliments Laverty's script, inspired by, and dedicated to, Howard Zinn, late historian and author of The People’s History of the United States, which concentrates its first chapter on Spain's involvement in the Americas, and the romanticism surrounding Columbus. Fiction mirrors fact again as Sebastián is also inspired to make his film after discovering the writing of one man, in his case Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos, a real sixteeth century critic of the genocide of aborigines by the conquistadors.
As well as highlighting the continuing arguments surrounding Spain's colonisation in the 1500s, as well as the exploitation of the poor by corrupt or unfit governments, Even the Rain also comments on the ethics of international filmmaking. The filmmakers' own experiences were mirrored by those of their fictional characters; just as Costa and Sebastián are criticised for rewarding only those hired as extras, rather than the community as a whole, Bollaín and Laverty were asked to donate items that would benefit everyone, such as bricks for a school's construction. In an interview with Maria Garcia, the director recalls, ‘a man asked us: “How will this film be positive for our area, our community, our region and our country?” I thought to myself that this would not come up if we were anywhere else. He was thinking for everybody. It was a revelation to us, and it was wonderful.’[ii] Just as it does within the film, fact, fiction, history and personal experience are inextricably connected, working together to raise questions and draw attention to events – both past and present – that continue to cause controversy and debate.
Researcher (University of Glasgow) and journalist
[i] Icíar Bollaín, interviewed by David D'Arcy, “Director Iciar Bollain on her new film, 'Even the Rain',” <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/11/PKEM1HI9T8.DTL> [accessed 7 May 2012].
[ii] Icíar Bollaín, interviewed by Maria Garcia, “Conquests and protests: Cinema partners Bollaín & Laverty explore legacy of colonization In 'Even the Rain',” <http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/news-and-features/features/movies/e3i8ca187a9af2b2817c94cefc05f661149> [accessed 7 May 2012].