For her latest project Even the Rain (2010), Spanish actress and director Icíar Bollaín has chosen to tackle the rather thorny issue of colonialism. Colonial guilt is certainly subject matter that British audiences can relate to, and it’s a topic that requires a sensitive and intelligent hand. Bollaín’s attempt is undeniably ambitious, opting not to tell the story in a historical framework but through a film production exploring Columbus’ time in the Caribbean in the 1500s.
This film production, based in Bolivia, is headed up by obsessive Mexican director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), who wishes to deconstruct Spanish history to make amends for the crimes of the past. After a tumultuous casting process, Sebastian discovers Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), whom he casts as the leader of the native Hatuey in the drama. As the plot unfolds, Sebastian realises that Daniel shares much in common with the character he is playing, even getting involved in local protests based around the Cochabamba Water War at the turn of the millennium.
Written by British screenwriter Paul Laverty – also Bollaín’s husband – Even the Rain makes use of a meta-narrative via scenes which reflect moments of history against contemporary situations. One of the central instances of this is the similarity drawn out between the film company’s exploitation of locals via horrendously low wages.
However, what might at first appear to be a clever comparison is in fact an oversimplification of some very complex socio-political history. Bollaín’s film unashamedly sets out to highlight the crimes of the past, but does so at the expense of any captivating narrative that might absorb an audience. In fact, the constant flipping back-and-forth between historical and contemporary issues fragments the overall structure, making it difficult to become 100% absorbed in either story.
The fictional production’s producer Costa (Luis Toscar) is undoubtedly Even the Rain’s most interesting character, shifting from his initial concerns regarding the cost of the film to finally understanding the plight of the local populace. Bernal also offers a very convincing performance of a man obsessed, with an equally enjoyable performance from Karra Elejalde as alcoholic actor Anton. Yet despite a number of strong performances, Even the Rain remains an overly-ambitious, highly problematic film that utilises its complex framework to only partial success.