We deal with crises in our everyday life - or what we think of as crises. But sometimes we need to be jarred out of the cocoon of our own lives to see crisis that really lives up to the term.
That's what happens to the movie crew at the center of Iciar Bollain's Even the Rain, a movie within a movie. The company, led by producer Costa (Luis Tosar) and director Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal), is making a film about Christopher Columbus and Father Bartolome de las Casas in the new world of the early 16th century Hispaniola (now the island that shares the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Their film may be about the Caribbean island, but the producer has brought his company to the mountains of Bolivia for the money he can save on labor, including an indigenous population that will work cheap as extras.
But they arrive in Cochabamba, Bolivia, at a real moment in history: the 2000 uprising against the privatization of clean water. Pressured by the World Bank, the Bolivian government had sold water rights for the country to a private contractor, denying the lower classes access to clean water because the cost was prohibitive, given their poor standard of living.
As it happens, Sebastian has picked Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), one of the leaders of the water-rights movement, to play a crucial role, finding him in a casting cattle call. Now his film is threatened - first, by his actor's constant scrapes with police at demonstrations (in his off-hours from the movie), then by the riots that break out after water strikers close down the city and battle with police and soldiers.
In the script by longtime Ken Loach associate Paul Laverty, the parallels between Columbus' exploitation of the indigenous population in Hispaniola and the natives battling for access to clean water are subtly handled. It's not easy to work real politics into a drama without it becoming either preachy or didactic. But Bollain does that here, in a movie that reflects the weird dance between media and unfolding history.
In this case, it's the entitled movie crew, which can't quite believe that their important movie may be upended by the impending and growing friction between the government and a popular people's movement. Bollain doesn't ignore the self-centered quality of show-biz types; indeed, she puts a new spin on the notion of being on the wrong side of history.
And she does it with interesting twists, including making the budget-focused producer Costa the one who finally connects with the people's cause, creating a bond with Daniel, the firebrand who is also the star of his movie. By contrast, Bernal's sensitive-guy movie director, the one who doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings or be thought badly of, winds up being as self-focused as some of his actors - who first ignore the roil of protest around them, then want to flee from it.
Tosar is perfect as the producer: bull-headed, charming, conniving and wheedling when he needs to be - but a man with a vision, who ultimately gets his mind changed. Tosar makes his conflict not only credible but palpable.
The same is true of Bernal, one of the prettiest actors working today. He's got a charming smile, but makes that charm recognizably false with a shift of the eyes. Aduviri, as Daniel, seems to be less acting than behaving, which is meant as a compliment.
With the recent events in Egypt and a breeze of something igniting that sense of empowerment elsewhere in the Middle East, Even the Rain feels timely and of the moment. It's the kind of movie that helps you remember to turn your gaze outward more often than you probably do.