I recommended this Spanish film recently released in the US earlier this week, and have since heard that it’s being dumped in the worst way, not only in how it’s being released, but there isn’t even anything being written about it: the professional world is pretending this film doesn’t exist, probably because it insults the entire film industry. From the start we see the makers of a Christopher Columbus film exploiting the locals to save on costs(also why they’re shooting in Bolivia), the studio makes an appearance over the phone to yell and the producer and cause stress, the leading actor’s introduction is him intimidating the Native American descended hotel staff(all for the sake of his art, of course) the director has a moment towards the end of complete delusion that makes it hard to keep sympathy for him, and while the producer is spared that he is still heavily flawed.
And that’s when the film within the film is a hell of a lot more honest about Columbus than anything you’d see out of Hollywood. As in, natives having their hands chopped off and getting burned at the stake, and the only reason there isn’t a scene of the native women drowning their babies to keep them from a worse fate is because the women hired refuse to do it even with lifelike dolls, honest. Though naturally the thing the director initially brags about is that’s in actually in Spanish. We the audience also see these scenes largely through the lens of the film crew’s cameras(the hand chopping scene is watched largely in the form of dailies), so the camera tricks have their chance to work an effect on us, even though we know that no, Daniel, the local guy they hired for the important native part, is not actually getting burned at the stake-nope, he’s only in danger of being dragged back off to jail and possibly murdered by the government for his part in the civil revolt going on once the scene finishes shooting.
There, of course, is the irony, even as the descendants of the originally massacred natives get their ridiculously low wages playing their unfortunate ancestors for the film within the film(which they don’t have much of a choice about with jobs being so scarce), they are still being held to the brink by foreigners, and the film crew’s exploitation is the least of it; the real plot of the film involves a foreign company buying out the country’s water supply and charging the natives more money for it a month than any of them make in a year. Of course, without water, they can’t even survive, so violent revolt is literally their only choice. The juxtaposition of old and modern history is complete in the aforementioned burning at the stake scene, which ends with the natives in their historical costume and make-up overturning the police car to free Daniel.
Daniel is in fact the lead; he’s the leading native part in the film within a film, he’s the leader of the revolt, and by the end of the film he’s shown himself to be one of the two lead characters, the other being Costa, the producer. The actor playing him, Juan Carlos Aduviri, was acting in his first film, according to IMDB, and does a magnificent naturalistic job. Costa provides a strong counter presence, going from talking frankly to the studio over the phone in Daniel’s presence not realizing Daniel understands English to risking his life and throwing money around in order to rescue Daniel’s maimed daughter and get her to the hospital-though of course it’s easier for him to help his actor’s daughter and support her financially, which he eventually offers to do on learning she’ll probably be crippled, then it is to lift a finger to do anything about the oppression of the country itself. In the end the company retreats and everyone gets to keep their water, but Daniel observes it’s only going to get harder for them in the future.
This is definitely one of those films people should see, even though it’s not an easy one to sit through. Not nearly enough people will. Even here, where there’s enough of a market for obscure films to be shown in a handful of cinemas, the audience was almost empty.