When filmmakers Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Costa (Luis Tosar) fly to Bolivia to shoot a film about Christopher Columbus, they do so to save money. But when they find themselves caught in the middle of a local conflict between the natives and a huge corporation who’s trying to control their water supply, the filmmakers are forced to confront their priorities to either do the right thing and get involved, or finish their movie at any cost.
The parallels between the events in Bolivia and the events in Sebastian and Costa’s film are intriguing and well-executed. Some elements feel more forced than others, but overall the two storylines reinforce each other well. Probably the strongest performance in the film is Juan Carlos Aduviri’s who plays Daniel, a native who gets cast as the Indian leader. Coincidentally, Daniel leads the insurgence of the natives against their corporate oppressors, while leading his Indian brothers against Spanish conquerors in the Columbus film. Daniel is a strong, capable character, who doesn’t let his extreme poverty and lack of education prevent him from fighting for what he believes in. A scene where Daniel overhears Costa speaking English to a producer on the phone is a particular high point. When Daniel reveals that he speaks English, and thus knows that Costa is paying him and the other natives a pittance. The scene in many ways is the catalyst for Costa’s character arc. Costa begins the film as a fairly generic, greedy archetype, but as he’s thrown into the midst of the local revolution, and as he befriends Daniel, his character gets much more deep and interesting. Luis Tosar’s performance is great, and while Costa’s character reversal may seem sudden and forced, Tosar does a lot to keep the character grounded in realism.
Bernal’s performance is probably the least interesting of the film. His character arc goes the wrong way, as he starts off by wanting to maintain the integrity of his film, and then works to just get it made no matter what’s going on around him. It’s a little disappointing, but not necessarily unrealistic. The film is based on true events, but I believe that refers to the actual Bolivian uprising, or “Water Wars.” The narrative of this film being made against this backdrop of conflict is either an invention of this movie, or remarkably coincidental in its thematic significances.
The back cover promises “a grandeur and a force reminiscent of Terrance Malick films” but don’t worry about that. I was never that bored.
No special features on the DVD.
Available from Image Entertainment on November 6.