In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank recommended that Bolivia privatize its water system in return for its development loans. The South American country faced enormous socioeconomic inequality, gross corruption, and a massive disparity in the distribution of resources like water.
The World Bank made two points: The Bolivian water system was incredibly corrupt, and although it maintained low prices, it failed to deliver water to many of the poorest inhabitants. In the late ’90s, the Bolivian government agreed with the Bank and signed contracts selling water rights to the only bidder, a multinational company called Aguas del Tunari. When the company raised water rates by 35 percent in Cochabamba, it faced large demonstrations coordinated by union and community leaders. Bolivia declared martial law and tried to brutally crush the protests, but was forced to back down after several months of bloodshed. Water rates in Cochabamba are back to pre-2000 levels and water remains unavailable to over half of the city; the municipal water system cannot get a loan.
At first glance, También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) puts things in perspective. It portrays a Bolivian film crew’s attempt to make an epic movie about Christopher Columbus and the Spanish subjugation of the Caribbean natives in the midst of the Cochabamba water protests in 2000. But the film’s most incisive point is perhaps its least intentional one: that artists must remain grounded in the realities of their age, and that their art cannot be separated from their values.
Director Icíar Bollaín weaves together the story of several men who are trying to make a film about the Spaniards’ cruelties to the natives with images of current demonstrators bloodied by soldiers in riot gear. The filmmakers⎯Costa (Luis Tosar) and Sebastián (Gael García Bernal)⎯want nothing to do with the demonstrations; they just want to film where they don’t need to pay extras much. But Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), the actor they choose for the role of the native rebel leader, is also a leader of the protests.
As events spiral out of control, Costa and Sebastián stubbornly cling to their project, insisting on the importance of their art. They bribe Daniel to stay out of the demonstrations; he takes their money and then continues his struggle anyway. Tosar and Bernal play rather unsympathetic characters who undergo partial metamorphoses toward the end of the film. Aduviri plays a stereotypical martyr as both protest leader and the film within the film’s native rebel leader.
Even tardily transformed, Costa and Sebastián do not entirely redeem themselves. One wonders not only why these artists are so oblivious to the responsibilities that accompany their talent, but also how ethical Bollaín’s production itself is⎯a question haunting many great works of art.
The alcoholic actor casted as Columbus (Karra Elejalde) in the film’s film mocks the director-characters’ hands-off attitude. He is quick to point out that their interest is shallow and selfishly motivated. At the same time, Elejalde’s character is no saint; he never refuses the luxuries the production allows him. This complexity reminded me of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca, and it makes his character believable.
The self-interest of the others is, unfortunately, just as believable. When Costa and Sebastián, concerned that Daniel will be jailed and that they will be unable to shoot his scenes, ask the mayor of Cochabamba to negotiate with the demonstrators, the mayor points out that they are paying their extras just two dollars a day. The viewer is forced to side with the righteous Daniel and no one else. As También la Lluvia would have it, the world is a den of thieves.
More than anything else, Bollaín’s movie indicts artists who adhere to Oscar Wilde’s adage, “All art is quite useless.” In a critical scene, two actors, concerned for their safety, insist on leaving the country. From a corner, Elejalde’s character declares that they owe the world their tale of 15th century genocide, complete with indignant priests and greedy conquistadors—that staying and finishing the film is the only way the crew can help the Bolivian people.
No one, though, points out the obvious: that artists finding themselves in the midst of history have a responsibility to document it. Filmmakers have special abilities; their equipment can capture reality in ways that even The Grapes of Wrath or “Guernica” struggle to. That the main characters do not turn their cameras on the crowds, as American newscasters did during the Civil Rights movement, is the greatest disappointment of También la Lluvia.
It would be useless to write this review without recognizing the film’s relevance to current events. For those of us who will be traveling this summer, También la Lluvia urges a greater awareness of the sociopolitical events in whatever regions we will visit. For artists around the world, Bollan’s film is a reminder that art must be grounded in the realities of its time and that artists must sometimes also be documentarians.