There's something very refreshing about watching a film which comes without expectations and exceeds your hopes. Iciar Bollain is a Spanish actress who appeared in Loach's Land and Freedom; this is her first film as director, and it is very impressive.
The Loach connection is continued via scriptwriter Paul Laverty (Loach's regular collaborator) who has created a fascinating narrative about a Spanish film crew in Bolivia making a film about Christopher Columbus, who was of course, Spanish.
Director Sebastian (Gel Garcia Bernal) and his producer Costa (Luis Tosar) have chosen Bolivia because it is a cheaper place to film than other locations, and there is plentiful supply of native people to play the 'Indian' who Columbus meets when he lands in the New World. And in the opening sequence, we meet a charismatic representative of the indigenous population, Daniel, who is waiting in the queue waiting to be interviewed as a possible extra. The filmmakers decide that the line is too long, and start trying to send people home without being seen, but Daniel is having none of that. His powerful features and charismatic personality ensure not only that he has his way, but that he is also cast in a leading role in the film.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Bollain's film is that it allows us to see the parallels between the story that is being told by the film within the film - the way Columbus and his men exploit the natives - and what happens between the filmmakers and the extras. The levels of exploitation may be less overt, but the similarity of the dynamic is unmistakable. And the real pleasure lies in the fact that we do not have our noses rubbed in that parallel. It's there if we want to see it, but it's up to us to make the connection.
The film also benefits from three tremendous performances by Bernal and Tosar (who are well known) and Juan Carlos Aduviri (as Daniel) who is not. The footage of the political troubles within Bolivia between the rulers and the native peoples is also convincing and unsettling, not least when the director quest
By Phil Raby
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