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The ways in which the wealth, race and gender are portrayed in the film ‘Even the Rain’ whilst being linked to postcolonial themes
Even the Rain is a film directed by Iciar Bollain and written by screenwriter Paul Laverty. The story links Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the South America with the production of a film, mixing the Spanish crown’s use of gold during the 16th century with water wars in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the year 2000. “Bollain’s bluntly political film “Even the Rain” makes pertinent, if heavy-handed, comparisons between European imperialism five centuries ago and modern globalization. In particular it portrays high-end filming on location in poor countries as an offshoot of colonial exploitation” (New York Times, 2011). The film manages to waver between past and present, fact and fiction and between colonialism and post-colonialism.
The main characters of Even the Rain are Sebastian, the director and Costa, the executive producer. They have difficulties in the production of their postcolonial film with an intense unforeseen disturbance of protests against the Bolivian Government in the city of Cochabamba in 2000. These demonstrations were due to Bolivia’s water rights being sold to a private multinational association. As Sebastian and Costa attempt to deliver the “Spanish imperialistic ideals of Columbus’s age”, they come across a challenge in the form of the native actor and protester, Daniel to wrestle with the parallels between their film and the current water issues faced by the Bolivian people (Cilento, 2012). Daniel plays the role of Hatuey, a Taino Indian chief who leads the revolt against Columbus. Away from the film Daniel, is the leader of demonstrations against the government-protected water company. Daniel’s protests led to regular disruptions in making the film, with Daniel even being arrested during one of his later demonstrations.
When viewing the film through a postcolonial lens, it becomes apparent that there are differences in the way the characters are treated based on their wealth. This essay will show the issues linked to wealth in the making of the film and in the film ‘Even the Rain’ itself.
From the moment Sebastian decides to work for the global industry, he becomes stressed and anxious. He is required by his producers to follow a strict budget, as Costa looks for cheap labour. There are suggestions by some critics that Bollain herself may have underpaid her own extras. (Cilento, 2012). “The movie is brave to raise the questions it does, although at the end I looked in vain for a credit saying, ‘No extras were underpaid in the making of this film’” (Ebert, 2011). “Consciously or not, Even the Rain risks subverting its own good will. You can’t help but wonder to what degree its makers exploited the extras recruited to play 16th-century Indians. Inevitably Even the Rain is trapped inside its own hall of mirrors” (Holden, 2011). Such comments lead to a sense of irony, that what is being portrayed within the film may actually also be taking place in the making of ‘Even the Rain’. This can demonstrate that the colonial and postcolonial worlds can mirror and overlap each other and are perhaps not completely separate, through the exploitation of wealth.
In addition, the film crew’s aim is to tell an accurate story regarding native exploitation which took place in Bolivia. However, one of the reasons why the film crew are filming about Columbus in Bolivia is due to the country’s poor economic situation. The film crew are taking advantage of the country’s poverty and saving a lot of money by only paying their extras small amounts. Costa regularly makes reference to the fact that they are saving a lot of money. However, Costa gets caught out when Daniel overhears his conversation on the phone in English, where Costa says, “two dollars a day and they’re happy”, talking about the natives. This is an example of how even in the current day, the Bolivians are exploited due to their unstable economy and poverty. At this point in the film, Costa is shown to be on a similar level to the privatised water company, despite the fact that they are creating a film linked to the 16th Century exploitation of Bolivian natives, creating quite an ironic situation.
In ‘Even the Rain’ race has a vital influence on many of the characters and in many of their exchanges within ‘Even the Rain’. Post colonialist theory states that ‘whiteness’ is always portrayed to be the norm through discourses, with other races being seen as less important. The start of the film shows many Bolivians queueing up to be a part of the film in which the crew are shooting. However, Costa says that tell “we don’t need any more. We’ll just see the ones here. The rest can leave”. Not only is Costa making sure that he does not cast too many natives because he wants to keep a tight budget, he is also being highly ignorant towards the native population. Daniel says, “We’ve been waiting for hours. Some have come from very far on foot”. Despite this, Costa is dismissive in suggesting that the entire queue of natives should leave. Costa’s treatment and ways of talking about the natives exacerbates during the film as he says, “They’re all Indians, they’re all the same”. This dialogue portrays Costa as racist with a lack of sensitivity towards current issues and shows that he believes that the natives are ‘subaltern’ at this point in the film. An Indian Literacy Critic, Gagatri Spivak uses this term as a way of referring to marginalised groups and the deliberately silenced, with voices of the subaltern being rarely heard or dismissed, in this case, the Bolivian population. This again demonstrates how colonialism can still be very much present in today’s society and represent what was common during 16th Century Bolivia.
In a scene where the film crew are at a dinner table where everyone is drinking, the Dominican friar character within the Columbus film performs his lines in front of the rest of the film crew. The lines show the suffering of the indigenous people, but do not consist of their original meaning as they are performed mechanically (Cilento, 2012). Also at the dinner table, a less subtle example of othering and discrimination takes place through Anton, who plays the role of Christopher Columbus when abusing the Bolivians. He says, “Why not fill a plastic bag with the leftovers from this meal, which costs more than what they earn in a month, and give it to them, so their scrawny children can gobble it up like starving rodents!” Anton is demonstrating othering as he is deeming the native population as being less human, and less worthy of respect than himself, due to their race and class through this slur. The discriminations which the film crew represent in their own film still actually occurs at the dinner table. The film crew are blind to the colonialism which is taking place through their dialogue. This scene is an example of how Bollaín demonstrates that the both the cinematic parts of the film set in the 16th Century and present day parts of the film are connected and that colonialism is still present in Bolivia today through forms of racism and othering.
Race also plays a key role in a scene where Sebastian and Costa meet the Mayor in Cochabamba. The white Mayor sees himself as being better than the natives in Cochabamba and he is shown to be irrational and disrespectful towards them when he says, “Given their long history of exploitation, Indians distrust in embedded in their genes. It’s difficult to reason with them, especially when they’re illiterate… if I give one inch, these Indians will drag us back to the Stone Age”. The Mayor clearly shows that he has no faith in the behaviour and discipline of the ‘Indians’. The mayor’s views show a link to contrapuntal geographies as he can only understand the world as he sees it, as he is shown to be stubborn and narrow-minded despite the ongoing water crisis. Said (1978) believes that we should try and understand the world from more than ‘our’ point of view, by not thinking in terms of ‘black and white’, but instead think about how reality is more complex to help our colonial understandings of the world. However, the Mayor marginalises the natives and is a part of the neo-colonialism taking place in Cochabamba.
Linking postcolonialism in part to feminism, the ethical tension of ‘Even the Rain’ arguably reaches its peak when native female actresses decide to decline re-enacting a part of the film for Sebastián. They refuse participate in a scene which requires them to drown their babies, even though they are only dolls. This is because the Bolivian women do not want to use water as a form of death, leading to them resisting Sebastian’s request and therefore, the scene did not take place. This shows that in a postcolonial society, women can actually resist pressures put on them and are not necessarily as easily exploited as they may have been in 16th Century Bolivia, where there were previous tensions regarding feminism. There is another scene before this one in the film, where a crowd of women fight employees from Bechtel and the police against the rights for the natives to use a well which they had built themselves as a source of water, in order for their children to be able to drink. This shows is a strong link between “the colonialist and neo-colonialist temporalities and so the fictional drama generates a link between the film industry and corporate capitalism” (Cilento, 2012). Sebastián is trying to show a realistic scene showing the drowning of children, and the privatised water company Bechtel puts the lives of children in danger through preventing the access of water from the natives. Bollaín manages to show that women are being exploited as a cheap labour source by private companies and have difficulties resisting this in a neo-colonial Bolivian society. Sa’ar (2005) emphasizes this by saying that “The civil rights of these overworked, underpaid, and unrecognized workers (unrecognized in the sense that their work is constructed as help, temporary, merely supplementary, and generally nonwork) are severely restricted if not denied altogether, effectively leaving the sphere of civil society to the ethnically dominant groups”. The adds to the point that women barely have a voice and are not really recognised in societies such as this, within both colonial and postcolonial Bolivia. However, as already I already briefly mentioned, she accepts that they do have the potential to resist and make changes to a postcolonial society, as shown in the drowning scene.
The violence peaks in a scene toward the end of the film where the Indians who have declined to convert burnt alive whilst tied to crosses. When the scene ends, the police turn up to arrest Daniel for another demonstration regarding the water crisis. It is at this point where the film’s temporalities are demonstrated fully. This is because the leader of the insubordinate Indians is one of the leaders of the guerra del agua too. He fights the police whilst still wearing his full film costume and makeup. The extras also participate in fighting the police as they manage to tip over the police car and assist Daniel’s escape, evoking a scene which they had completed as a part of the film about Columbus (Cilento, 2012). The 16th Century and recent past cinematic temporalities in Bolivia can be seen as mirroring each other, with clear similarities between Columbus’s exploitation and recent postcolonialism.
In conclusion, in ‘Even the Rain’, Bollain’s delivery of large parts of film’s events through the film crew’s perspective, provides viewers a clear analysis of the behaviours and attitudes of the film crew who are looking to portray a postcolonial film. Nevertheless, some characters behaviours represented show instances of colonial behaviours and attitudes through their participation in the film industry and their general thoughts of the indigenous people in Bolivia. Links to wealth, race and gender
Bollain raises ideas that people in developing countries such as Bolivia can be ‘othered’ and seen as the ‘subaltern’. They are often marginalised and have little or no voice in their everyday life due to the privatisation and exploitation of their people and resources. The film allows Bollain to present the shocking scenes of colonialism during the 16th Century. The idea of a film within a film has meant that Bollain can link old colonialism to the present and shown similarities between the two timeframes in many scenes within the film, with the film crew often unaware that they were a part of colonialism.
- Cilento, F. (2012). Even the Rain: A Confluence of Cinematic and Historical Temporalities. Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, vol. 16, pp. 245-258.
- Ebert, R. (2011) “Even the Rain.” Chicago Sun-Times. Vitagraph Films, DVD.
- Holden, S. (2011) “Discovering Columbus’s Exploitation. Even the Rain, Icíar Bollaín’s Political Film.” The New York Times, Web.
- Sa’ar, A. (2005). Postcolonial Feminism, The Politics of Identification, and the Liberal Bargain. Gender & Society, 19(5), pp.680-700.
- Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York, Pantheon Books.
- The New York Times (2011). Discovering Columbus’s Exploitation. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/movies/18even.html (Accessed: 16 November 2018).
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