Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 5th January 2011
Box Office USA: $0.6M
Distributed by: Vitagraph Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Iciar Bollain
Producer: Juan Gordon
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Costa (Tosar) is producing a Spanish film that's shooting on location in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Writer-director Sebastian (Garcia Bernal) is insisting on raw authenticity to recount the story of Christopher Columbus' first encounter with Native Americans, and subsequent dealings between locals and the priests and conquistadores. For a lead role, he casts the indigenous Daniel (Aduviri), who spends his spare time campaigning against a British-American corporation that controls Bolivia's water, including poor people's right to collect rain water. And the brewing riot could disrupt the film's schedule.
There are three essential stories: actors rehearsing and filming scenes from 16th century Santo Domingo, filmmakers trying to get their movie shot on budget, and Daniel drawing Costa into the Cochabamba Water Wars of 2000. In historical documents, Columbus admitted how easy it was to plunder the natives' gold and take them into slavery, even as the priests knew that this was wrong.
The filmmakers are only too happy to exploit the disparate economies between Europe and South America. And Bolivia's privatisation of its water supply was brutally unjust.
Director Bollain and writer Laverty tell these intertwined stories with a documentarian's eye, keeping events grounded in facts while recreating scenes with breathtaking realism. At times during the period scenes and especially the water riots, we feel like we're watching actual events unfold. And we're gripped because the film lets complex, engaging characters live out the politics rather than preach about them.
All of the actors are earthy and natural, and even the side roles offer scope for surprising moments as the situations escalate. The actors in the film-within-a-film get the chance to shine, delivering the more issue-based dialog through the actual words of Columbus and his contemporaries. And when the riots overshadow the film production, Tosar gets the chance to really shine in a tricky series of events that really get our pulses racing. Especially since the film carries such a strong final kick.