The opening night of the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s 19th edition of its popular Spanish Cinema Now series included a screening of Icíar Bollaín’s new film, “Even the Rain;” a film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, where it caught the eye of distribution company Vitagraph, who were quick to move on acquiring the movie’s U.S. rights. Bollaín’s film also made a strong impression in its home country, where it was named as Spain’s official entry to the Academy Awards.
“Even The Rain” is an intricate exercise in reflexivity. The film oscillates between conceptual parallels; between past and present, between fact and fiction, between colonialism and post-colonialism. The film was written by Paul Laverty, whose frequent collaboration with Ken Loach includes ten screenplays for the English director. Originally, Laverty’s friendship with historian Howard Zinn produced the idea of a screenplay about Columbus’s conquest of the New World. As the years went by, Laverty began tweaking his ideas and found a new, fresh approach to the project. “I was fascinated by [Bolivia’s] Cochabamba water wars in 2000 and I often wondered how I could mix these two periods together [in the script] and how to do it,” the screenwriter told indieWIRE.
With “Even the Rain,” Laverty provides a structurally sophisticated screenplay that balances the story of a group of filmmakers shooting a historical epic in Bolivia with the film-within-a-film narrative they are producing. The filmmakers, led by idealistic director Sebastián (Gael García Bernal) and his cynical producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), soon find their production derailed as the events of Bolivia’s 2000 Cochabamba water protests begin to unfold. Sebastián’s production of Columbus’s conquest is juxtaposed with the contemporary situation the films’ indigenous extras are living, being deprived of a basic and essential human need by a foreign “Empire.”
Laverty stressed the importance of using a historically-specific time-period to contextualize his script. “There is such strength in what happened in Cochabamba, where the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank forced a country to privatize water – the essential ingredient of life – which not only was important for the people who lived there but religiously and spiritually it was an important issue as well.
“[Having] the indigenous population 500 years later fighting an army with sticks and stones once again, for the access to clean water for their children just had such power. And secondly…it was actually a victory. Very seldom do the poor actually overthrow a multinational that is backed by the army.”
Bollaín expressed her motivation in directing the film, “What fascinated me was Paul’s script. I found it to be very complex with its dual perspective on colonization. It gave us a chance to tackle colonization in a contemporary manner and to go back to the past and see it from a different angle. I thought it’d be foolish to not try it.”
Bollaín’s film brings a strong international component to the screen. The Spanish director shot in Bolivia, using Bolivian extras to complement a cast headed by an iconic Mexican actor in a film from a Scottish screenwriter. This aspect gives “Even the Rain” a new dimension. The film’s textual layers run deep. The audience achieves a simultaneous engagement with Bollaín’s work along with its parallel narratives of the water protests and the allegorical power of the film-within-a-film’s colonial conquest.
“It brought a lot of challenges, to be honest,” confessed the director. “I’d often wonder if we’d be able to go into a ‘period film,’ because all of a sudden we enter a film with Columbus and swords and the indigenous population. We had to think of how to enter that world and then go to the film crew shooting that story, and then leaving that ‘production’ and seeing the reality of what was happening in Cochabamba.”
Shooting the film in Bolivia gave the filmmakers access to an increased sense of authenticity. Rather than relying on a feigned verisimilitude, “Even the Rain” depicts the people and places that took center place during the protests that took place a decade ago. “The production was so rooted in the script that we never thought of pretending to be in Bolivia while shooting in Costa Rica,” explained Bollaín. “Everything is connected to that idea. We couldn’t cast a Keanu Reeves as the main Bolivian character. It had to be a person who was connected to what happened.”
“Many of the extras were the same people who fought in the water wars,” added Laverty.
This authenticity is most striking during the film’s denouement, where the filmmakers recreate the violence that finally emerged from the locals’ protest. Shooting these scenes provided a logistical and aesthetic challenge for the filmmakers, who worked under a tight budget and time constraints. Finally, it was the film’s cinematographer, Alex Catalán, who suggested using a scene from Peter Weir’s “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982) as a model. This influence proved to be a wise aesthetic solution, lending itself to one of the film’s climactic scenes where Costa is seen driving through an urban war zone.
“Sometimes the best way of talking about images is to refer to other images, not to copy them, but just to see if we are talking in the same language,” Bollaín said of the scene.