The dedication at the opening of Even the Rain makes plain the film's sensibilities: "In memory of Howard Zinn."
The nod is to the recent passing of the American historian and author of A People's History of the United States, a book that looks at history from the perspective of the common man rather than the "great men" conquerors and elites.
It's perfectly appropriate, considering Even the Rain's plot and social thrust. It is Bolivia in 2000, as a film crew arrives in the country to make a movie about Christopher Columbus and his arrival in the New World. The film's director, Costa (Luis Tosar), has chosen Bolivia because it's a cheaper location to make his movie. In other words, there are thousands of "starving Indians" there who can be used for extras to give the film an epic scale. He uses the "extras" as cheap manual labor to erect sets, too.
More idealistic is the screenwriter, Sebastián (Gael García Bernal). His movie is at least as much about the exploited natives Columbus encountered as it is about the explorer. Sebastián cares instantly for the hundreds of people who show up for an open casting call and fights Costa to see that they aren't deprived of their opportunity to be in the film.
But Bolivia doesn't prove to be a stable location for the film shoot. A dispute over water rights has erupted between the impoverished people and the corporate utility that wants to charge them exorbitantly for access to water. The Bolivian government naturally sides with the company.
Sebastián finds among the Bolivians a perfect man to play the key role of Hatuey, a native who resists against Columbus. The actor is Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), and what Sebastián finds ideal about Daniel — the depths of defiance in his eyes — is what Costa finds alarming and a possible problem down the road.
Costa is right to be worried. Daniel is a leader in the water-rights uprising.
And so it is that the shape of Even the Rain takes form: a film about Columbus exploiting the natives; a film production that exploits similarly impoverished people; and powerful institutions that exploit the people.
But Even the Rain is even better than that. It's a history lesson, as the cast discusses progressives such as Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos. It's a historical re-creation of the events of the film-within-a-film: We actually see the cut of the movie with Columbus' men levying taxes, chopping off arms, and burning Taínos on crosses. And Even the Rain is a re-creation of the Cochabamba protests that took place in Bolivia in 2000.
It's also good as a movie, with character arcs and interesting visuals. A helicopter carrying a hanging cross in the film's opening is a reference to La Dolce Vita. It looks as out of place in the jungle now as it would have in 1492 and perhaps is as ironic an icon as Christ over Rome in the 1950s. And, as Even the Rain becomes more about actual war zones and less about metaphors, it takes a turn that is less morally and narratively certain for the characters. If a movie doesn't wind up being about the people, it's not about anything worth remembering.
Opening Friday, April 29th
Studio on the Square