As a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.As a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.As a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.
There are so many stunning, powerful, dramatic, believable moments to this hard hitting film, you wish so much that there weren't a few unreasonable gaffes to the plot and characters. It's frustrating when a film is almost amazing, because you are reminded of what it was not.
But also what it is, which is pretty thrilling and clever.
First, the contemporary setting is based quite closely on the true events of local Bolivians in the third largest city of the country, Cochabamba, fighting for rights to their own water supply. A private (Euro-U.S.) firm has cornered water rights and when the locals try to use their own handmade supply system the police come and interfere. It's maddening to the point of anger on both sides of the screen. In a way, this local uprising against injustice is the movie, the core of the events.
But what makes it actually fabulous is the way it told through the eyes and cameras of a large film crew working on a movie about Christopher Columbus arriving on the shores of America and mistreating the natives. Yes, a parallel that is obvious but handled with dramatic aplomb. There are many moments showing the shooting of the film, and it transports the viewer instantly and beautifully to the Columbus events, which are epic in their own way. But the characters are part professional actors from other countries and part local (and underpaid) extras, some of whom are involved in the water protests when not filming.
So there are several layers of action, tightly interwoven. The disdain and fear of some of the outsiders is believable (the man playing Columbus, Karra Elejalde, is amazing, world weary and tough, taking both sides as needed). Some of the circa 1500 history of resistance by the natives and even the brave defense of the natives by a Spanish priest is inspiring. And the way it still applies 500 years later (500 years!) is depressing. And energizing.
There are some other small problems, maybe the result of editing down too much later, such as the inclusion at the start of black and white video footage, a documentation of the filming, that you think will then become news footage (or not) but then it just disappears as a component of the film, completely, for no reason. And then the tumult of the last half hour with riots and roadblocks is great stuff, really well done, but so highly improbable you have to just write it off to generous screen writing. We aren't really able to believe the wholehearted change of attitude of the producer (played with intensity by Luis Tosar), but it makes for great interpersonal (and sympathetic) dramatics. And finally the director of the movie within the movie is played by the ever beautiful Gael Garcia Bernal, but in fact he's too weak and thoughtful a type to be directing this sprawling and frankly unmanageable movie about Columbus.
But these objections actually only came up for me later, thinking back. While immersed, I was really immersed and impressed. It's an ambitious, smart, and pertinent movie, with great and enjoyable complexity.
- Jun 16, 2011