In most of the countries of Central and South America, some version of The Conquest is still going on. The Indian populations remain subservient to those of European or mestizo (mixed) origins, almost 500 years after Hernán Cortés and his men first landed on the eastern shore of Mexico. Any visit to the villas miserias of Buenos Aires, the ongoing mine operations at Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia, or just about anywhere in the Guatemalan countryside will give you a sampling of how suffocatingly difficult life is for the Indian populations of almost every Central and South American country.
A recent dramatic film También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) takes a unique view of this. A sophisticated Mexican film crew wishes to make a movie about Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, the poor treatment that the conquistadores later meted out to the Indians that they enslaved, and the contrary attitude of such priests as Bartolomé de Las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, who roundly condemned The Conquest for its murderous treatment of the Indians. To save money, the filmmakers go to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they encounter many hundreds of Indian citizens wishing to be extras in the film. They hire several, planning to pay them two dollars a day, and turn the rest away, over the protests of those being denied.
Two Indians that the filmmakers do hire are Daniel and his daughter Belén. Daniel is a truculent political leader among the Cochabamba Indians, organizing a huge protest for a local, home-grown water system in Cochabamba against the local government, which has hired a multinational corporation to develop a new system. The Indians are doing just fine building their own, but there's money to be made with the multinational, and therein lies the conflict that leads to the major protests and street battles in Cochabamba that occur throughout this film.
The plot goes, in very inventive ways, back and forth between two stories. On the one hand, there is that of the film crew, its actors, the Indian bit players and extras, and the actual dramatic film itself, in costume, that they are making. Ironically, in that film, the main Indian protester against the conquistadores is played by the contemporary protest leader Daniel, his daughter Belén also playing a major role in the movie.
As the film-within-the-film is being made, and shows the horrifying cruelty of most of the conquistadores, the Cochabamba poor are fighting against the government and the army, with grave injuries and death the result. Daniel, the rabble rouser, is arrested, beaten and jailed, and the film producer Costa bribes an official to have Daniel released so that he can film the important scene in the movie he is producing, in which the Indian leader -- played by Daniel -- is burnt at the stake by conquistadores.
The moral conflict in También la Lluvia is that between its producer Costa, a flinty, hard-bitten, money-driven conservative with no sympathy for the local Indians, and its director Sebastián, who is a younger man, more of a moralist, a bit of an idealist, who feels for the Cochabamba Indians and their impoverished existence. It is he who hires the rabble rouser Daniel, over the producer Costa's objections.
Costa is played by the superb Luis Tosar, a Spanish actor who did a turn as a drug kingpin in the 2006 dramatic feature Miami Vice. Tosar's Costa cares nothing for the Indians he hires for his movie, especially Daniel, whom he sees as a noisy troublemaker. But his involvement with Daniel and his family, especially his daughter Belén, changes him, particularly when Belén is terribly injured during a street battle against the army.
The director Sebastian is played by Gael García Bernal, who portrayed young Ernesto Guevara with such distinction in Walter Salles's fine Motorcycle Diaries. An international film star, this fellow is one of the best looking actors ever, and he has the performance chops to be able to play with real authority drunken monsters (Babél), conflicted priests (The Crime of Father Amaro), and humorously befuddled teenage lovers (Y Tu Mamá También). In También la Lluvia, he is first seen as the feeling, liberal consciousness of the film, who openly criticizes the Bolivian government for its treatment of the water-rights protestors and argues with the producer Costa about his early abrasive attitudes toward the Indians. As the threat to his movie project from the street protests becomes real, he becomes less and less willing to stand his ground in defense of the protestors, as one would hope he would do given his solid leftist credentials.
So, in this film, the selfish, money-grubbing producer crosses the line to real love for his protestor friends, while the heart-driven director, mouthing feel-good platitudes to no particular effect, ends up powerless to help them. Sitting by the roadside after almost his entire film crew has abandoned him, he appears simply lost. He can do nothing to regain whatever moral authority he may once have had.
The real moral center of the film is the Indian Daniel, played superbly by Juan Carlos Aduviri. An indigenous Aymara Bolivian, Aduviri is a professional actor and drama teacher at the one single film school in La Paz, Bolivia. His portrayal of Daniel, who is by no means a noble savage, is so nuanced and many-leveled that you simply cannot wait for him to be on screen. His last scene, in which we see him saying goodbye to Costa, a man who once hated him and for whom he had in the beginning no benevolent feelings of any kind, is memorable for the integrity of its emotional truthfulness.
The Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, whose trilogy Memory of Fire is a vast, very unorthodox and famous history of the Americas, wrote, "In this world of ours, a world of powerful centers and subjugated outposts, there is no wealth that must not be held in some suspicion." This film, which illustrates the very nature of the moral confusion on the part of the filmmakers portrayed, is a fine example of why one should always hold to that suspicion of power.