Even the Rain

Two Oscar Contenders That Probably Won’t Win.

If you were at the Toronto International Film Festival, you probably saw both Even the Rain and Of Gods and Men. If not, youll see them this spring. If there were any justice, you might see at least one of them nominated for an Oscar. Thats if there were any justice. But then, if my aunt had wheels, shed be a streetcar.

Even the Rain (Tambien la Lluvia), directed by the Spanish actress Iciar Bollain, is the “making-of” doc from hell, except its fiction ““ sort of. The Spanish nominee for Best Foreign Language Film follows a Spanish movie crew shooting an epic about Bartolome de las Casas, the Spanish priest who wrote about abuses of native populations while the Spanish were officially enslaving and exterminating the locals for God and country in the 1500s. This crew is filming this colonial costume picture in Bolivia in 2000, when the locals there are rising up against the privatization of the national water company on the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund. One effect of that IMF-driven deal was that citizens were banned from collecting rain water, which was private property. Hence the title.

Gael Garcia Bernal in Even the Rain

Gael Garcia Bernal in "Even the Rain"

Gael Garcia Bernal in Even the RainThe script for Even the Rain is by Paul Laverty, a long-time collaborator of the British director Ken Loach. The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal, the Mexican actor, as a director with high ideals who also pays the many extras in his films $2 a day. Is the privatization of a poor countrys water supply the latest installment in the conquest of the new world? Is a film that tries to tell the true story of the conquest just a new form of economic exploitation in the quest to reduce costs by shooting in the cheapest country? These are a few of the questions posed in Even the Rain. And theres one more. When water is nationalized, poor Bolivians fight back. Why does that response seem so unusual in the US, where the poor either dont vote or line up to support a Tea Party that blames the government, and not the banks?

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

In Frances nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, the setting is the highlands of Algeria, where a Benedictine monastery has operated for more than a century. The monks, who number just eight, lived austere lives, and one of them is a doctor who operates a walk-in clinic that was popular enough to draw 150 patients a day. The film is based on a true story ““ the monks are taken hostage by a radical Islamic group on New Years 2006 and turn up dead months later. On the screen, around them, a war wages between the one-party government and Islamic guerrillas who murder opponents and slit the throats of foreign workers and women who wont wear veils. In the middle is the tiny group of peaceful French men, led by Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson). The landscape is austerely beautiful, yet the town downhill from the monastery is a trash-heap. All the more reason why the local people want the monks to stay.

Scene from Of Gods and Men

Scene from Of Gods and Men

None of the clichés about a war of cultures apply here. Close-ups make the faces of the monks look like Old Master paintings, and theres a fatalism to the community that cant leave. One monk describes them as birds on a branch that cant decide when to fly off. A local woman says, “Were the birds, and youre the branch.” Watching Of Gods and Men, you never forget that the local people are suffering far more than the Christian martyrs. When both Muslims and Christians die at the hands of the extremists, youre reminded how much the two religions share. Thats enough to merit an award from me.

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