A movie as daring and ambitious as Iciar Bollain’s Even the Rain can be excused for being a little pleased with itself—and there’s little denying that Even the Rain enjoys a sense of its own worth. Why shouldn’t it? This intricately crafted tale gets far more right than it doesn’t, as it tells the story of movie crew, its visionary director and his long-suffering pragmatic producer out to make a film painting a damning portrait of Christopher Columbus as an imperialist oppressor. Its major shortcoming is simply that it falls victim to the same trap it sets for its fictional filmmakers, and that slightly tarnishes its own righteousness.
Few recent films have tackled anything as complex and weighty as Even the Rain. The selling point of the movie with American audiences is Gael Garcia Bernal who plays Sebastian, the dedicated filmmaker, but it’s ultimately more Luis Tosar as Costa, his theoretically more practical producer/partner, who carries the film. Bernal is fine—he even has moments of greatness—but Tosar’s character is simply the more interesting. He’s also quite possibly the more admirable of the two, even though the film starts out with him seeming anything but admirable. It’s Costa who has brought the film to Corachamba, Bolivia—largely against Sebastian’s wishes—in order to take advantage of the labor costs there. Both men are smart enough to realize that this means that they are exploiting the natives just as Columbus did, albeit in a different way. Costa, however, appears to be more comfortable with this.
Sebastian tries to salve his conscience by treating his extras well—or as well as possible on their two-dollar-a-day pay scale—and retreating into the importance of the statement of his film. He even goes so far as to hire a key performer, Juan (Juan Carlos Aduviri), despite realizing the man is clearly going to be trouble. Costa argues against this with more reason than he can possibly know at this point in the narrative, but relents because, yes, the man is perfect for the part. Of course, the reason he’s perfect for the role of the Indian who most distrusts and sees through Columbus because he is that character in real life. The difference is that his modern-day Columbus is an international company that is taking over the water supply in the area, so that no water—even the rain—will not be paid for. And he’s one of the prime agitators against this affront—and, by his nature, he’s equally suspicious of the film company, and with good reason.
The story then becomes the attempts to make this film about exploitation by the use of exploitation against the background of even greater exploitation—a background that threatens to not remain in the background. And, of course, it’s not going to stay background, but will become the main event of Even the Rain. What is most remarkable in all of this is the depth of characterizations all the way around. Everyone has some unexpected side that will surface before the drama is fully played out. The film can’t, however, escape the suspicion that its filmmakers are fully as exploitative of its extras as the filmmakers in the film. Does it diminish the surprising power of Even the Rain? No, but it’s impossible to completely overlook. If you’re interested in seeing this film, make all possible haste, since it seriously underperformed this weekend and will be gone come Friday. Not Rated, but contains adult themes, violence and language.