Temporal Migration in Even the Rain: Reflection on Limitations of Transnational Production through Multiple Modes of Filmmaking
Iciar Bollain’s Even the Rain follows the journey of a Spanish producer, Costa, (Luis Tosar) and a Mexican director, Sebastian, (Gael Garcia Bernal) who travel to Bolivia in the midst of Cochabamba Water War of 2000 with a film crew in order to make a history epic on Christopher Columbus. Using Even the Rain as the primary text, this essay examines the political possibilities and limitations of transnationally produced film in representing marginalized groups. Different histories of colonization coincides in Even the Rain, where a film production financed by Americans and led by Spanish producer travels to Bolivia for the cheap labor force. When the Water War intensifies, the film presents an interesting parallel between the content of the historical epic and the oppression of the largely Quechua and Aymara community in Cochabamba by the multinational corporation Bechtel. With Solanas and Getino’s Towards a Third Cinema” as the framework, I hope to glean moments of self-reflexivity in Even the Rain in order to establish how the film uses temporal shift as a way to address the close relationship between neoliberalism, neocolonialism, and cinema.
Temporal Migration in Even the Rain
I would like to build on Ranajit Guha’s “The Migrant’s Time” in order to examine how temporality affects the identity of a displaced community. Guha observes in the article that “a diaspora’s past is … the question of an individual’s loss of his communal identity and his struggle to find another” (156). In my view, Guha’s contemplation of geographically displaced diaspora is applicable to the temporally displaced identities of Quechuas and Aymaras in Cochabamba. In other words, Even the Rain draws attention to a community whose geographic determination remained the same while its temporal identity was displaced through various histories of colonization. Guha also states that “the migrant who has just arrived stands before the host community only in the immediacy of the present” (156). In Even the Rain, the present political moment of the Cochabamba Water War interrupt the production of revisionist Christopher Columbus historical epic. Using temporal displacement and foregrounding of the present from Guha’s article, I would like to examine how Even the Rain coincides multiple temporalities in order to represent the continued marginalization of certain groups in Bolivia.
Even the Rain is able to explore different temporalities that intersect within the same region as it has a fixed geographical setting of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Through temporal shifts, Even the Rain addresses the struggles of different political and economic forces to claim the temporality of a place. I would like to focus how the three different modes of filmmaking represent the intersecting temporalities: the narrative feature film of Even the Rain, the film-within-film Christopher Columbus historical drama, and the makings-of film shot in documentary-realist style. The film is aware of the close relationship between media and power, and uses each mode to address the varying efforts to claim the temporality of Cochabamba.
The film takes out visible transitions between the different modes of filmmaking. The frames in Even the Rain are fluid, as the film does not signal the viewers when transitioning from the feature film to film-within-film or to the documentary realist mode. The fluidity of editing often points to the weight of history that collides in the present moment as well as the blurred distinction between film and reality. The capitalization of indigenous bodies in Sebastian’s film production parallels the commodification of water, a vital resource directly linked to survival. In other words, the analogy between colonial conquistadors and multinational corporations reveal the temporal displacement of marginalized groups in Cochabamba while the interaction between the transnational film production and the actual political events point to how the diaspora only has “the immediacy of the present” (Guha 156).
I would like to focus on an instance of osmotic frames in Even the Rain that draws a parallel between the colonization of Christopher Columbus and the neocolonial attitude of the government and big business. Through overlapping different temporalities, this sequence calls attention to the continuation of colonization while showing the possibilities of political resistance through the actions of Bolivian actors instigated by the arrest of Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri).
The sequence of Costa and Sebastian’s discussion of their vision for the Christopher Columbus epic is immediately followed by a long shot of actors playing Tainos that are led by the conquistador soldiers. The historical epic narrative continues as the soldiers bring out Hatuey the Taino leader and forces him to convert to Christianity before he is burned alive on a cross. Hatuey rejects the offer and spits on the face of the inquisitor, which leads to the Tainos chanting his name. After a sequence of Hatuey’s execution, the sequence transitions to Sebastian in contemporary attire yelling, “Cut!” (Even the Rain) Then, a police car drives into the set and attempts to arrest Daniel still wearing Hatuey costume. The Bolivian actors, still in Taino costumes, jump at the police car, which leads to the policemen pulling out their guns. The situation seems to temporarily diffuse when Costa and Sebastian try to talk to the police, but chaos ensues when the actors manage to help Daniel escape.
Going back to Guha’s article, this sequence shows the political potential of a temporally displaced diaspora. Both the Tainos in Christopher Columbus era and the Cochabambans in 2000 are met with a colonial institution that attempts to take away their communal identity by usurping means of survival. For the Tainos, human labor is extracted in exchange of gold, while for the Cochabambans water is taken hostage in exchange of money. By abridging the disparate historical settings through depicting the production of film-within-film, Even the Rain effectively shows how the cooperation of police and water company mirrors the political and economic desires of the imperialists in Columbus era. In other words, the sequence exposes the close ties between political and economic institutions represented by the police car and privatization. The parallel between colonial soldiers and the police car shows the colonial bent of neoliberalism that makes profit through the exploitation of historically underprivileged groups.
The sinister cooperation between money and power is supported through other sequences in the film as well. In another film-within-film sequence, the Spanish inquisitors collect and measure gold from the Tainos and punish those who did not meet their quota. Through this sequence, the economic pursuit of the conquistadors is foregrounded. The collusion between government and corporation in the privatization of water is represented in a sequence where Costa and Sebastian goes to the mayor’s office in an attempt to negotiate temporarily pulling Daniel out of prison to finish shooting. The mayor disregards Sebastian’s comment on the rationale behind the demands of the protestors, and tells the film crew that a country with limited resources needs major foreign investments (Even the Rain). Through these sequences, the film builds a community whose history is constantly contested and displaced by groups with power and money.
However, the sequence of Hatuey’s execution goes further than showing the similarities between the imperialists and neoliberal corporations and uses the immediacy specific to a diasporic community in order to halt the repetition of colonial past. The Bolivian actors yelling Hatuey’s name is extended to the act of attacking the police car in order to stop Daniel’s arrest. In other words, as the oppression of colonialist powers can bleed into the present, the spirit of resistance can also travels across time.
Self-reflexivity as a political measure
The aforementioned inclusion of different modes within a single narrative feature results in the self-reflexive contemplation of the colonialist nature of cinema in Even the Rain. The presence of film-within-film foregrounds the artifice of Even the Rain as a whole. In other words, Even the Rain admits that the representation in any film is fragile. The film makes a political use of self-reflexivity, as the exploration of subject-filmmaker position often questions the complicity of media in the continuation of colonialist power. The documentary realist film plays a crucial role in the meditation on the power relation through the camera, as Maria’s makings-of film is prevented from rolling on multiple accounts. Using “Towards a Third Cinema” as the larger framework, I hope to explore Even the Rain’s reflection on the outer limits of transnational filmmaking in delivering a politically revolutionary message. Building on the previous observation on the interruption of the present as a way to address the possibility of political change, I would like to extend the foregrounding of immediacy to the foregrounding of agency that resists narrativization shown through self-reflexive moments.
The film opens with the film crew arriving at Cochabamba, greeted by a long line of townspeople waiting for the audition. The casual attitude of the crew towards the townspeople is apparent from the beginning, as Costa randomly selects those who look the part. When Costa attempts to inform that the audition is over, Daniel angrily responds by saying that everyone deserves a chance, since many of them travelled far to get to the audition. Daniel’s defiant attitude draws Sebastian’s attention, which makes Daniel land the role of Hatuey, the Taino leader. From the opening sequence, the push and pull of representation and reality is apparent. The actual expression of grievances by Daniel leads to him being typecast as the angry indigenous leader.
In a sequence where Maria films the exchange between Costa and Sebastian, the color scheme and continuity editing indicates that the sequence framing Maria’s point of view is a part of the narrative progression of Even the Rain. The color scene then cuts to the view of the car driving away, and cuts back to the footage of Maria’s documentary, which is distinguished from other scenes with its grainy, handheld, and black and white cinematography. The black and white sequence shows Sebastian’s apparent discomfort and anxiety when the camera is pointed at him. Sebastian becomes increasingly anxious as Maria asks sensitive questions regarding the exploitation of the cheap labor force while Costa continues to answer her in an insensitive manner. The brief reversal of subject-filmmaker position reveals the inherent power in the position behind the camera. The fear of Maria’s documentary footage demonstrates the fear of lack of agency in narrativization.
Both the casting sequence and the car conversation sequence shows the film crew’s complicity in generating a repeated narrative of colonization that erases the specificity of marginalized groups. In the exchange between Costa and Sebastian in the car, Costa complains that making the film in English would have doubled the audience and the budget (Even the Rain). It is apparent that Sebastian did not want to compromise the integrity of the film, and insisted on making a Spanish-language film. However, the crew had to compromise by casting largely Quechuas in place of historically accurate Tainos. In addition, the exchange between the crew and the mayor reveals that the film is protected by the police. The black and white sequence concludes with Maria exclaiming the film is all about money. Later, it becomes clear that the mayor is in favor of the film because it makes the region marketable.
In addition, the film contains multiple media that often favors powerful institutions and aids the oppression of marginalized groups. When the film crew enters mayor’s office, the tour of the office starts with everyone taking a photograph together. The complicity of the film crew is double presented in this sequence, as both the conversation between the crew and mayor as well as the photograph signals the cooperation between the local governance and film production. At the end of the film, a newspaper reports the aftermath of Cochabamba Water Wars with a photograph of Daniel’s. The film warns of the dangers of mediation as a way to flatten out political realities by juxtaposing the front page of the newspaper with Daniel’s reaction, where he says that this is only a part of an endless struggle and the reality cannot be narrativized as such. In other words, the media’s push to create a beginning, a middle and an end often comes at the expense of erasing the voices of conflicting groups.
The unnamed Christopher Columbus epic is a globally produced film that is financially supported by Americans. The attitude of the crew towards the people of Cochabamba signals a sense of superiority, as they often patronize and sympathize while never paying attention to the actual political changes taking place in the region. The sequence where Sebastian and Costa discuss what they envision of the film reveals that the two have a generalized idea of the colonial history predicated on a revisionist mission that imagines a noble savage hero. The vision of the two characters is obstructed by the actual events of Cochabamba at the time, which is expressed through real footages of news reports of the revolt crosscut with the crew’s reaction. The contrast between the reality in the grainy newsreel and the two characters’ verbal imagination of reality shows the constant struggle between representation and reality in the film.
I would like to bring in Solanas and Getino’s “Towards a Third Cinema”in order to address the modified revolutionary approach in the film that emphasizes the awareness of the vulnerability of cinema to become oppressive. Third Cinema views the camera as an “inexhaustible expropriator of image-weapons” (Solanas and Getino). Although Even the Rain does not aim to produce militant revolutionary material in a guerrilla fashion as the Third Cinema theorists envisioned, the meditation on the nature of media representation allows for a certain skepticism of images that is in conversation with “a culture of subversion” (Solanas and Getino). By presenting multiple modes of filmmaking within a single feature, Even the Rain is able to address the complicity of cinema in furthering neocolonial and neoliberal objectives. In the end, Even the Rain is aware of film’s drive to draw investment and make profit.
Even the Rain, then, is carefully self-reflexive since it admits that film medium, too, is prone to such narrative push that favors central characters. In my view, the film’s admitting to the power structure and colonizing gaze inherent to film as well as foregrounding such construction is politically subversive. Instead of providing a coherent account of the Cochabamba Water War, Even the Rain presents multiple points of view of the film crew and the Bolivians while maintaining the different temporal markers of each group. Ultimately, the person behind the camera for Even the Rain is Bollain. She sets up an interesting parallel between her and Sebastian, and indirectly expresses her awareness of the power given to the position behind the camera. However, through encasing Sebastian’s colonial-era epic within a much more complicated story of Even the Rain, Bollain diverges from the revisionist and indigenous-friendly approach that does not generate much conversation. Furthermore, Bollain admits to her own complicity to the cycle of transnational production that caters to a global audience that is looking for material that is provocative but not jarring. In other words, Bollain is aware of her position as a Second Cinema filmmaker that diverges from Hollywood blockbusters but remains at the “leftist wing of the System” (Solanas and Getino). However, instead of claiming that her film is revolutionary, Bollain shows that Second Cinema can show what Third Cinema could be by including Maria’s documentary footage.
While the increased mobility at a faster pace in globalized era can lead to effective exchange of ideas that creates genuine human connection not subjected to the System, communication is often tied to affordability. Although Costa goes through transformation throughout the film from the least sympathetic and money-driven character to a participant of the protests, the last sequence of Even the Rain makes clear that for Costa, the experiences at Bolivia becomes a souvenir from an indigenous friend. For Costa, who can afford to leave Bolivia at a moment of crisis, globalization and neoliberalism presents an opportunity to expand the scope of his human interactions. However, for Daniel, the Cochabamba Water War is only a small part of a continuous struggle for agency. Thus, the final sequence of Even the Rain speaks to the acceptance of the limitations of transnational filmmakers who can only present a piece of history.
Even the Rain maintains an ambivalent attitude towards filmmaking in the neoliberal era where international co-productions are commonplace. Instead of entertaining the apparent promise of transnational productions that allows easy access to representing previously marginalized groups, Even the Rain accepts and foregrounds the limitations of properly presenting the voices from the margins. Through the use of multiple modes of filmmaking that allows for temporal shifts within the film, Even the Rain poses crucial questions on the nature of representation that is inextricably tied to the politically and economically powerful. I believe Even the Rain accurately assesses the limits of transnational film production while taking full advantage of the potentials within those limits through maintaining skepticism of coherent and continuous narrative.