JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The scene’s final shot shows Sebastian reflecting presumably on the “first voice of conscience against an empire.” A sound bridge brings in Daniel’s protest from the following scene, signaling the ongoing struggle against imperialism.

Daniel (seen through the lens of a documentarian’s camera) speaks out against injustices perpetrated by the multinational water company.

Daniel addresses a gathering outside the water company’s office. A protest sign combines the Quechua word for water, “yaku,” with the Spanish word for “sell,” “vende,” suggesting the complexities of indigenous resistance against water privatization.

In a crucifixion scene for Sebastian’s film, Daniel performs Hatuey’s defiance of Spanish authority.

The other men at the stakes join Hatuey in a protest chant.

Even the Rain immerses us in the world of Sebastian’s film, cutting between the men bound to the stakes, the conquistadors, and the Indians who are forced to watch.

A weary Bartolomé de Las Casas reminds the Spanish commanders that crucifixion would memorialize Hatuey.

Immediately after the film shoot, Daniel is arrested for his role in leading protests against the multinational water company. Daniel’s arrest, depicted in slow motion, prompts reflection on the continuities between past and present.

Since he remains dressed as Hatuey, Daniel’s resistance recalls Hatuey’s defiance of Spanish authority.

Costa and Sebastian intervene to prevent the officials from shooting. Beyond this, the Spaniards do little because of their deal with a police chief to return Daniel to custody.

Whereas the Indians in Sebastian’s film are ineffective in preventing the crucifixion, Daniel’s community successfully releases him by toppling the police car.

Costa’s attempts to contain Daniel’s resistance trigger his own internal transformation.

Even the Rain’s final act abandons the historical network narrative for a linear structure tracking a metropolitan character’s moral transformation. In the penultimate scene, Daniel thanks Costa for saving his daughter’s life.

Daniel’s and Costa’s reconciliation exposes the film’s debt to conventions that legitimize metropolitan humanity via acts of gratitude from the colonized.

In another strained moment, Costa says “yaku” in recognition of the significance of Daniel’s parting gift to him.

A shot of the taxi driver’s gaze returns us to the perspective of ordinary Bolivians.

The water company’s office in Even the Rain bears the traces of a successful mass movement that drives the private multinational out of Bolivia.

 

As the scene ends, Sebastian tells his actors that Montesinos was “the first voice of conscience against an empire.” In the scene’s final shot, Sebastian sits contemplatively in the film set. Momentarily, though, a sound bridge brings in Daniel’s voice from the following scene proclaiming, “They sell our wells, our lakes… and even the rain that falls on our heads. By law.” Daniel’s voice briefly takes over as Sebastian rests. The sound bridge interrupts the story of the exceptional Spaniards that is the focus of Sebastian’s film and returns our attention to the indigenous perspective. When we cut to the next scene, a fiery Daniel, microphone in hand, addresses a small crowd outside the private water company: “And who takes even the rain? A company whose owners are in London and California.” Although Daniel speaks in Spanish, a protest sign around him reads “Yaku vende,” where “yaku,” the Quechua word for water, is paired with the Spanish, “vende.” The protest sign calls attention to the longstanding struggle of indigenous Bolivians against imperialist forces— both within as well as beyond their nation.

In this manner, crosscutting in Even the Rain links the fates of indigenous populations in the past and present and also invites us to notice the contrast between the Spanish priests speaking on behalf of Tainos within the context of Sebastian’s historical narrative and the Bolivian Indians representing their own interests in the present. Even the Rain thereby engages the viewer in a form of political analysis and reflection on how and from whose perspective history is told.

Although Sebastian and the Spanish film crew appreciate the oppressiveness of the colonial past, we realize increasingly that they resist recognizing its ongoing legacies and new modes of expression. However, past and present converge most painfully when the Spanish team films the conquistadors’ crucifixion of Hatuey and other Indians.

The scene opens within the world of Sebastian’s film—as we witness a heated argument between a Spanish commander and Bartolomé de Las Casas. The commander wants to make an example of the death of thirteen Indians, which Las Casas opposes. In several shots, Las Casas appears small compared to the commanders mounted on their horses, suggestive of his relative powerlessness. Once the Spaniards start burning the crosses, the camera closes in on the Indians, especially Hatuey who begins to shout in Quechua (that is made to stand in for Taino within the world of Sebastian’s film): “I despise you. I despise your God. I despise your greed.” When the other men at the stakes join in this chant, we move between Hatuey’s impassioned face, wide shots of the ritual killing, cutaways to the Indians who have been made to watch, and shots of the Commanders and Las Casas who fail to comprehend the chant. As tension builds, all the Indians start shouting Hatuey’s name in defiance of Spanish orders. The Commander is unable to subdue the crowd, and a weary Las Casas cries above the chanting, “Thanks to you, [Hatuey’s name] will never be forgotten.”

The next cut returns the viewer to the present—with Sebastian, on a raised platform, thanking the actors and announcing the end of the shoot. When we first survey the scene of the action from the filmmakers’ raised perspective, smoke rises from where the crosses had been planted; but the area now appears less lush, more prosaic. We see patches of barren ground where in the diegesis of Sebastian’s film we saw only dense foliage. The human figures appear smaller in the frame—and the viewer is reminded of the difference between cinematic construction and reality. But just when we begin to think that the horror of Sebastian’s film is safely contained in the past, we see policemen arrest Daniel for his role in leading protests against water privatization. Non-diegetic music enters at this point, drowning out sounds from the scene as Daniel—in slow motion—is dragged away by the police.

The momentary slowing down of film speed allows the viewer to ponder the parallels between past and present, especially as Daniel remains dressed as Hatuey. When Daniel/Hatuey is brought to the police car, the film returns to normal speed, allowing us to notice the aggressiveness with which the police push him into the car despite opposition from a crowd that remains dressed in the indigenous costume worn for the film shoot. The crowd eventually topples the police car and manages to release Daniel. When the policemen threaten to shoot, Sebastian and Costa finally intervene. But the Spaniards are relatively ineffective as the crowd pushes the policemen to the ground and frees Daniel. The scene ends with Sebastian declaring to Costa, “It is like a dream. I can’t believe it.” The viewer, however, has been prompted all along to think of it as more than a dream—but rather as an uncanny repetition of the past, albeit with key differences. Unlike in the past, the Indians are not victims; on the contrary, they successfully manage to prevent Daniel from being arrested. Since Sebastian and Costa had previously made a deal with the police chief to return Daniel to custody following the film shoot, the viewer learns to question the Spaniards’ ethics. The end of this scene shows Sebastian and Costa in a state of crisis and prompts the viewer to wonder about the extent to which they recognize their complicity in the historical violence directed against Daniel and his people.

Moral transformation and the
limits of network form

Just at the point that the filmmakers appear irredeemably compromised, Costa is asked by Daniel’s wife to help find their daughter, Belen, who goes missing during the government-imposed curfew.[16] [open endnotes in new window] Costa’s willingness to do this marks the culmination of his slow transformation and results in his saving Belen’s life. The centralization of the metropolitan character’s development, especially in the film’s final act, signals a crucial contradiction within Even the Rain’s attempt at historicizing the indigenous perspective.

In an interview, screenwriter Paul Laverty testifies to market pressure when he speaks of how the film might not have received funding if the indigenous character were at its center: “ ‘Obviously I would have loved to tell the story from the perspective of the Indian leader Daniel,’” states Laverty. “‘It's just we would never have been given the money by the financiers’” (Dawson 44).[17] If Even the Rain reveals how Costa’s choices for Sebastian’s film are in response to foreign investors’ demands, then Laverty’s comment suggests that money and finance influence his own creative decisions as well. In response to market pressures, Laverty makes Costa’s transformation from a morally compromised to an ethical individual a structuring device within Even the Rain. In the process, however, Even the Rain’s historical network narrative is funneled during its final act into a linear format leading to relative closure.

Whereas the film cues us initially to believe that the socially and historically aware Sebastian would be its moral center, it gradually begins to invest in Costa. An early moment that cues us to notice Costa’s internal process is when Daniel overhears a phone conversation in which Costa boasts to an U.S. producer about how cheap it is to hire extras in Bolivia: “two fucking dollars a day” can make them “feel like kings,” announces Costa. Daniel later confronts Costa with “I know this story,” implying his awareness of the continuities between Costa’s behavior and the long history of exploitation of Indians like himself. This scene is crucial in triggering change in Costa as well as in establishing a vexed but ultimately reciprocal relationship between Costa and Daniel.

As the protests intensify, the contrast between the positions of the protesting Bolivians and elite film crew becomes increasingly stark—as does the gap between Daniel’s and Costa’s positions. One scene that highlights this gap is when the Spaniards meet with a local politician who has been supporting their film production, while around them the protests get louder and the police more violent. The politician complains to the filmmakers that, “Given their long history of exploitation, Indians’ distrust is embedded in their genes. It is very difficult to reason with them, especially when they are illiterate.” The politician’s inability to see indigenous Bolivians as fully human is brought into relief when Sebastian tries to reason with him, asking him how someone who earns two dollars a day could pay a 300% increase in the price of water. The Bolivian official replies, “How curious. That’s what I’m told you pay the extras.” As Costa guiltily listens in on this conversation, Even the Rain suggests that the Spanish filmmakers’ treatment of their extras is enabled by a history of state-sanctioned violence against poor and indigenous Bolivians. It is the longstanding exploitation of Bolivians that makes it possible for the Spanish filmmaking crew to get away with paying their extras so little.[18]

The scenes showing Daniel’s resistance to Costa’s attempts at appeasing him are crucial for shifting Costa’s attitude towards Indians. In the scene when Costa tries to make a monetary deal with Daniel to prevent him from protesting until the shoot’s completion, Daniel is at first silent. A frustrated Costa wonders out loud if Daniel is merely performing the role of “the silent, dignified Indian.” Eventually, however, Daniel accepts Costa’s money, anticipating that his family would need it in their struggles. In moments such as this one, Even the Rain portrays Daniel as neither the timeless, dignified Indian that Costa invokes, nor the genetically programmed malcontent that the Bolivian politician imagines in his conversation with the Spanish filmmakers. Because the viewer is trained through the course of the film to oscillate between prior and existing regimes of power, a historically specific interaction between colonizer and colonized replaces a generalized conception of “otherness.” Costa learns to see Daniel’s reality in a historical context, and his shift in consciousness becomes a model for the viewer to follow.

Yet, despite its attentiveness to the historical dynamics of colonial relations, Even the Rain draws on conventions of the sentimental colonial narrative, especially in its attempt at bringing closure to its complex plot. In the film’s penultimate scene, Daniel comes to the film set to give Costa a parting gift and to thank him for saving his daughter’s life. This penultimate scene between Daniel and Costa is perhaps the most strained, as it reflects Even the Rain’s debt to Euro-American storytelling conventions that require the enacting of reconciliation between colonizer and colonized in order to confirm the European’s ability to eventually be human. As is often the case within this narrative structure, the colonizer figure’s humanity is salvaged through an act of bravery or kindness that elicits gratitude.

The inter-personal and private register of this reconciliation brings a superficial sense of closure to the historical contradictions that the film so painstakingly exposes in its first two acts. In other words, the abrupt transition from network mode to linear development indexes fundamental tensions underlying the film’s form—between telling a “history from below” and marketing the story to ensure global distribution, and between revealing historical colonial conflict and enacting private resolution to this conflict.

Even the Rain ends with a view of the busy streets of Cochabamba taken from a moving car— only the passenger inside is Costa and not Sebastian (as in the film’s opening shot). In another strained moment, Costa holds up the gift that Daniel gives him before they part: it is a small bottle of water to which Costa responds by saying out loud, “yaku,” the Quechua word for water that the protestors had been using in their struggle. Costa’s ability to recall this word is a sign that he has come to see matters from the perspective of the indigenous Bolivians. The film suggests possibility in Costa’s act of compassion and newfound ability to appreciate the realities of those he once dehumanized. Interestingly, though, the next shot is of the driver’s eyes watching Costa through the rearview mirror. As in the rest of the film, this silent gaze serves to clinch the scene and to remind us of a perspective that remains marginalized or totally forgotten.

Conclusion

Even the Rain’s final scenes depart strikingly from its established method of paralleling and contrasting past and present modes of imperial domination. The strained moments and streamlining of plot within its final section index the pressure exerted on the film’s style by market forces. Yet, although it cannot sustain the network form or challenge conventions that centralize the metropolitan character’s moral transformation, the film is nevertheless “ideologically unsettling” (Levine 520) of facile notions of global interconnectedness that mask histories and ongoing realities of capitalist exploitation.

Through its historical perspective Bollaín and Laverty’s film shows us how contemporary neoliberal capitalism and its supporting free market ideology reinforce longstanding social exploitation. Neoliberalism, writes Harvey,

“holds that the social good will be maximized by maximizing the reach and frequency of market transactions, and it seeks to bring all human action into the domain of the market” (Neoliberalism 3).

Although neoliberal doctrine claims to be in service of social good, the basis for its broadening of market logic is the increased dispossession of those who have been historically impoverished and marginalized. By focusing on the Cochabamba water crisis and its links with a colonial past, Even the Rain exposes how neoliberal privatization has a vastly disproportionate impact on those who have been locked into a cycle of poverty.

We learn from the final conversation between Costa and Daniel that the multinational water company pulls out of Bolivia, thanks to the efforts of Daniel and others who protested for days. This in fact is what took place in Bolivia during the early 2000s.[19] As Jim Shultz explains,

“For almost two decades Bolivian economics had been dominated by the Washington consensus, market-driven policies pushed by the World Bank and the IMF and carried out by national leadership that was fiercely obedient to those policies. The water revolt shook those arrangements to their core” (28).

Not only did the revolt manage to force out the multinational but also the increased power of social movements following the Water War paved the way for the election in 2005 of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. As Shultz observes,

“Facing down the government of a former dictator, overcoming the power of one of the world’s largest corporations, and reversing a fundamental policy of one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions, the humble people of a city virtually unknown outside the country had won a victory that would soon echo its way to Washington and to the world.” (26)

Shultz argues that in fact, “Officials at institutions such as the World Bank found themselves having to defend their policies in the aftermath of Cochabamba” (28).

I should emphasize that my point in comparing the aesthetic strategies of Babel and Even the Rain is neither to reject the former film as politically suspect nor to glorify the latter as politically pure. Rather, my aim in juxtaposing the two films is to comment on the implications of emphasizing spatial and accidental over temporal and structural linkages within contemporary network narratives. By inviting viewers to ponder how historically created, unequal power dynamics structure interactions between much of the world’s population, Even the Rain complicates commonplace assertions about global connection. Put differently, Bollaín and Laverty’s alterative network narrative invites reflection on how linkages between geographically distant individuals and communities have been produced within the modern world system. In the end, the film challenges heroic depictions of Columbus and the Conquistadors on the one hand and myths of neoliberal reason on the other. At a time when our corporations and politicians celebrate capital’s global mobility and propagate the idea that there is “no alternative” to economic privatization,[20] Even the Rain reminds viewers that capitalism has been and can still be challenged through solidarity and popular resistance.

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