Spanish-American writer George Santayana famously remarked, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Modern film producers aren't so inclined to take heed, since repeating the past is the safest route to profit. The Spanish drama Even the Rain—directed by Icíar Bollaín—casts a withering glance at "haves" blithely taken to destroying "have nots."
Put more accurately, the locals of Cochabamba, Bolivia are "have littles." So when a Spanish film crew making a historical drama about Christopher Columbus puts out a reckless casting call ("Everyone gets a chance"), a mass of Quechuan natives clamors for acting work. Producer Costa (Luis Tosar) and director Sebastián (Gael Garcia Bernal) can't even offer most of the crowd an audition, let alone a job, and they narrowly avoid a riot. But the cinematic carpetbaggers also find just the man to play their antagonist when Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) refuses to take "Go home" as an answer. Over the concerns of his producer, Sebastian casts Daniel as Cuban martyr Hatuey, a native who stood up to Spanish imperialism.
The filmmakers' day-one disregard for the consequences of their actions bodes badly for the complicated production, but equally worrisome is the water crisis playing out in the city: with full government support, private water companies are seizing locally dug and maintained community wells, and the people determine to fight for their rights. Busy with their own story of native exploitation, the filmmakers couldn't care less, until they realize that Daniel couldn't care more: a natural-born rabble-rouser, Daniel leads the protest movement and therefore constantly risks arrest and civil unrest so dire it could send the production packing before the film has finished shooting. When the filmmakers try to win his loyalty, Daniel makes his priorities plain: "Some things are more important than your film."
That audience identification rests with the understandably but sadly selfish Sebastian (who complains, "I hope I can get through this") more so than the community-oriented Daniel goes beyond a run-of-the-mill indictment of entitlement to the troubling question of personal values and their definition of identity. One character unexpectedly turns a corner in this regard, and though his transformation may be a bit hard to swallow, the example is properly shaming to our almighty-dollar-oriented value system. Sure enough, some things are more important.
Even the Rain proudly wears its liberalism on its sleeve (the film is dedicated to Howard Zinn), and Ken Loach's regular screenwriter Paul Lavery (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) gives the proceedings the pointed simplicity of a parable. Lavery also productively pokes fun at cinema's penchant for revisionist history; in the film-within-the-film, Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos delivers his famous sermon: "The truth has many enemies. The lie has many friends."
Though obvious, Bollaín's morality tale dramatizes vital issues facing the global economy, forcing the audience to experience them on a human level. It's all about the money, Columbus' nation-building imperialism remade as modern government-industrial exploitation. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]