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18 July 2013

"Even the Rain"

Have you seen this movie? 

It's about the Water War in Bolivia, which happened exploded in Bolivia in early 2000.

Yeah, I hadn't heard of it. With any luck, you're better educated than I am.

I just wrote a brief essay about this, for a class. Now I'm going to proselytize and tell everyone that they should watch it, because it was a) well done, in my opinion, and b) a serious eye-opener for me. I think it might open some other people's eyes, too.

The movie's available on Netflix (streaming), or you can buy it on amazon. There's a crappy version (which happens to not have English subtitles, if - like me - you need those) on youtube, too. Seriously, check it out.

Here's what I wrote about it, since I know you're curious:

There is a recurring theme in the history of Bolivia since their colonization by Europeans; it is a theme of racial superiority representative of the hegemonic ideologies of the colonizers. This theme is artfully highlighted in the film Even the Rain (2011), which follows the efforts of a fictional film crew attempting to create a dramatic documentary of Christopher Colombus’ invasion and subjugation of the Taino people. To save on the cost of production, the film crew is working in Bolivia, where a casting decision leads them right into the middle of the Water War, a very real internal political crisis that occurred in Bolivia in early 2000. Using this backdrop, the viewers are led to see the connections between Columbus’ actions, and the actions of the foreign film crew, and the Bolivian government.
The director of this film crew has striven to use Columbus’ exact language (from his journals and letters), so that they might remain as close to the reality of the Spaniards’ actions as possible. Early in the movie, a scene begins (at 0:25:47) in which we see the film crew acting out a speech given by Father Montesinos, who was, as the director says, “the first voice of conscience against an empire (0:29:19).” Father Montesinos railed – against the Spaniards’ treatment of the Native peoples, demanding that the violent and dehumanizing practices (including not just slavery, but the particularly brutal methods of enslavement and debasement for which Columbus’ occupation of the Bahamas is now known. Sandwiching the scene with Father Montesinos’ speech, we see what’s going on in Bolivia at the time: the beginnings of the Water War, when communal wells were being locked against the people who’d dug them, and the first of the public protests.  
In that first protest scene, we find the actor cast as the lead Native role, “Daniel,” leading the protests. Cinegraphically, Daniel is set up as the ‘first voice of conscience’ in the Bolivian Water War.
While Daniel is clearly aligned on the ‘side’ of the Natives, and the Bolivian government – which sought out and supported the privatization of their country’s water – is clearly aligned with Columbus’ ideology, the film crew itself is torn. In their conversations with each other, it’s clear they are sympathetic to Columbus’ victims, and to the impoverished Bolivians (despite the crew’s disagreement over what their involvement should be, their sympathies are nonetheless made clear over the course of the movie). However, the conflict over what their role should actually be comes out early, and in such a way that they are forced to consider how they might be involved on a grander scale, intentionally or not. At 0:32:40, we see the executive producer, “Costa,” helping the actor cast as Columbus to rehearse his lines. The actor’s lines roughly quote a letter from Columbus, written in 1493 from the Bahamas (the difference in the lines and the letter is so slight, that it is likely to be only a difference of translation). He is speaking of the Taino people. “They are so naive and generous with what they have,” say the lines, “that they never refuse anything. Whatever they have, if you ask them for it, they will give it to you, inviting the person to share it with them... With just fifty men, you could subdue them, and make them do whatever you want.”  Then, in the very next scene (beginning at 0:35:05), Costa condescendingly tries to convince Daniel to stay out of the protests, then discusses the low cost of production while on a phone call, saying, “two fucking dollars a day and they feel like kings.” Moments later, the audience it reminded of what Costa has just said when Daniel reiterates Costa’s words back to him: “two fucking dollars, no? And they’re content.” Daniel forces Costa to see his own condescension, by repeating Costa’s words back in English – which Costa had clearly assumed Daniel would not understand. These scenes, and these words, all illuminate the disregard the ruling classes may have for the ruled classes, whether it be Spaniards versus Natives, rich versus poor, or employer versus employee.
The disregard humans hold for ‘others’ is probably more universal than what ‘haves’ hold for the ‘have nots,’ but it is in relations of power that these prejudices are most evident. In Even the Rain, it is the conversation between the film crew and a governing official, who appears to be the Mayor of the city, that the extent and nature of the government’s disregard for its citizens is fully elucidated. The scene begins at 0:51:58 and opens with the chants of protestors echoing in the background. “A little domestic row,” the presumed Mayor says, “Nothing for you to worry about.” One of the actors responds by comparing the scenario to the infamous “let them eat cake” of Marie Antoinette; of course this is an escalation, prompting the Mayor to defend his administration’s actions. His defense, though spoken in various terms, ultimately rests on the supposed racial inferiorities of the “Indians” he blames for causing the unrest – even as he references the “long history of exploitation” of Bolivian Native peoples – and his listeners are intended to share his implied racial superiority. He characterizes them as primitive, stone-throwers in the global economy. “It’s the cult of victim versus modernity,” he says. That statement calls to mind the goals of Columbus and other explorers, who sought to ‘bring civilization to the barbarians’ they encountered. It was thought though, that any Native peoples found were too barbarous, too cognitively ill-equipped, to truly reach ‘civilization’ at the level of the Europeans. The Mayor says as much, saying that if they were allowed, “these Indians [would] drag us back to the Stone Age.”
Even the Rain shows how the behavioral patterns created by the actions of the dominant governing bodies in Bolivia are representative of the same hegemonic ideologies under which European colonizers operated in their ‘discovery’ of the Americas. The overlapping stories keenly illustrated the racial themes which have survived hundreds of years in the histories of Bolivia and much of the Americas. The viewer is forced to ask – what happens next? The dust settled and the government of Bolivia was forced to reconsider privatizing their water, but is this progress? It seems that, given the country’s history (then and since), no real lesson has been learned. The heart of the problems, illustrated so well in Even the Rain, have not yet been acknowledged, and thus will continue to plague Bolivia.

Christopher Columbus: The Untold Story. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2013, from
Bollain, I. (Director). (2011). También la lluvia [Motion picture]. Bolivia: Image Entertainment.

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