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Opening Tonight: 'Even the Rain'

Even the Rain (También la lluvia) starts out as a film about Spaniards revisiting the specter of their country's colonial past. Film director Sebastián, played by with nervous, slightly self-righteous fervor by Gael García Bernal, arrives with his crew in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to shoot a movie that will tell the true story of Christopher Columbus's exploitation of the indigenous people of the Americas. His producer, Costa (a grimly efficient Luis Tosar), has settled on the location because there will be an unlimited supply of extras and cheap labor. From a crush of locals lined up for the casting call, they pick Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) to play Hatuey, the leader of an indigenous rebellion against Columbus and the Spaniards. At the first read-through, drunken veteran actor Antón, cast as Columbus (and played with bitter, sarcastic relish by Karra Elejalde, whose most recent credit is a small part in Biutiful), shows his seriousness with the role by acting it out all'improvviso with the local (Indian) staff.

The idea of art imitating life seems plain enough: colonial exploitation recreated by the makers of a film about how it was wrong for Europeans to exploit the Americas. Then the screenplay, by Paul Laverty, adds another, probably unneeded layer, as we discover that Daniel is in real life the leader of a popular uprising in Bolivia over local water supplies, which are controlled by the government and international conglomerates. The members of the film crew see the growing unrest threaten the very possibility that they will be able to complete their film at all, let alone keep to their schedule. Their professional worries -- and guilt over their own exploitation of the local Bolivians -- eventually yield to their sympathy for the water demonstrations. In a way, the screenplay is a metaphor for how a film about a political cause, and even film stars advocating for a cause, are no substitute for real action.

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Along the rather convoluted way, there is much to admire and much that seems grotesquely contrived, especially in the final thirty minutes of the film. The film is at its best early on, when it remains in a light-hearted mood, with the actors poking fun at one another for their various attitudes about colonialism: who can be more sanctimonious? Taking the side of the water protesters, the film crew asks a government official how people who make $2 a day can afford to pay more for water. Without missing a beat, he responds that that amount is about what the producer is paying the extras, isn't it? Like most movies that take on a "big issue," Even the Rain stalls on its own preachiness: not that water rights is not an important issue, which it certainly is, but the political tone deflates the plot and squeezes most of the interest out of the characters. The film was selected as the Spanish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's 83rd Academy Awards, but while it made the shortlist of nine, it was not among the final selection for a nomination. Director Icíar Bollaín has made a film that is beautiful in many ways, but she has spoken in print about the water issue in a way that explains how the film gets bogged down in politics.

Even the Rain opens today at the E Street Cinema.

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