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From Columbus to Cochabamba

even-the-rain

“Even the Rain (Tambien la Lluvia)”. 2010. Iciar Bollain, Director. Paul Laverty, Screenwriter.

The Cochabamba Wars

It was the year 2000 when a series of protests erupted in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia over an impending privatization of water supply systems.

The bid to sell community water rights to a private multinational consortium was a conditionality imposed by the World Bank in order for the Bolivian government to qualify for a pending $25 million loan application. Citing cases of local corruption and government inefficiency as compelling reasons to denationalize municipal water systems, the WB also prohibited the government to subsidize the increase in water supply fees.

The onset of increased water rates caused widespread public unrest among the poorest indigenous and mestizo communities in Cochabamba whose agricultural systems were in need of constant and affordable water supply.

The demonstrations reached a critical mass and were met with police brutality leaving one person dead and hundreds injured in its aftermath. The riots nonetheless persisted until it reached a standstill that led to the reversal of the privatization scheme and the eventual return of water rights to civilian rule.

The Conquest of Columbus

Centered at this point in history, the film Even the Rain presents a brilliant cinematic device to describe the events of 2000 as analogous to Christopher Columbus’ imperialist conquest of the New World. A movie within a movie, the story revolves around a struggling Mexican film crew that selected the Bolivian panorama as an offshoot substitute for pre-colonial America.

Conflict arises when a local uprising pushes the film producer Costa (Luis Tosar) and artistic director Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) to the limits of sympathy and political understanding.

Sebastian considers his Columbus movie as a monumental opportunity to correct the errors of history by portraying the conquistador as the insatiable, greedy culprit of atrocities against the environment and its native peoples—contrary to popular accounts that show him to be a gallant explorer of uncharted lands.

Costa, on the other hand, is shown to be indifferent to the plight of indigenous communities in Bolivia. In an attempt to reduce production costs, Costa and his crew chose Cochabamba to shoot the film where hundreds of native citizens would fall in line just for a chance to become extras in exchange for two dollars a day.

Halfway through the production, antagonisms between Bolivian peasants and the government began to escalate into what is now known as the Water Wars of 2000. The worsening situation worries the entire crew as financial backers refused to give another penny while others feared for their lives. Still endeared by the imminent glory of his masterpiece, Sebastian urges them to continue, arguing the value and enduring legacy of redefining pre-colonial history.

The crew refuses to accept Sebastian’s apparent delusion and collectively decides to find a way back home. As the cars were gearing for a trip back to the airport, Costa stayed to save his friend Belen, the child actor who had been wounded at the onslaught of police attacks. The cynical, budget-conscious producer Costa chooses to act out of concern for Belen while the passionate director, giving spoonful of clichés to no particular reason, finds himself incapable of actually helping.

The People’s History Retold

Among the numerous intriguing points in the film, the transformation of Costa towards a character of greater humanity, taking place under objective social conditions sparked the most interest. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, Costa finds himself at odds with the social reality facing his crew. His confrontation with the choice and dire necessity to take action at a time of crisis proves to be the selling-point climax any viewer could have possibly hoped for. Other members of the crew walked away, but the fascinating character that is Costa, cannot.

The film made possible the union of Columbus’s ambitious journey that transpired five centuries ago and the 2000 Cochabamba Water Wars—both simultaneously and inventively retold through a contemporary perspective rooted in the historical authenticity of colonial invasion. The juxtaposition of the Indian resistance against Columbus and the battle for water rights in Cochabamba serves to add insult to injury; an inflammatory agent to highlight a century’s worth of exploitation in the Latin American region.

At its best, the film remained rooted in political realities without necessarily neglecting its aesthetic appeal. It succeeded in elevating exploitation from the platform of colonial discourse to describing its contemporary form—a neoliberal adage repackaged in a bundle of sophisticated corporate laws, international agreements and the formation of powerful trading blocs—all of which are detrimental to the poor, and fundamentally beneficial to the elite few.

It succeeded in elevating exploitation from the platform of colonial discourse to describing its contemporary form…

Even the Rain, from director Iciar Bollain and screenwriter Paul Laverty, accomplished a multi-layered success by bringing to light indigenous peoples’ struggles, exposing the neoliberal stalwart of privatization, and exploring the highly nuanced contradictions and ethical perplexities of colonial exploitation from then and now. Delivered in a comprehensible package of provoking language and riveting political lucidity, Even the Rain is a splendid retelling of the people’s history from Colombus to Cochabamba.