Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Liberator (orig. Libertador) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing*

El Espectador [Bogota, Columbia] review* (Profeballa) review* (T. McCarthy) review
Slant Magazine (O. Moralde) review

The Liberator (orig. Libertador) [2013] [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* (directed by Alberto Arvelo Mendoza [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*, screenplay by Timothy J. Sexton [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) is a largely VENEZUELAN funded VENEZUELAN / SPANISH joint-venture biopic about Simón Bolivar [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] the "George Washington of Latin America."  The film recently opened the 2015 - 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival.  The film can also be streamed online for a nominal fee using the Amazon Instant Video service.

It must be said from the onset, however, that there are "things to note" about this film ;-).

While Simón Bolivar [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film, IMHO quite excellently throughout, by Édgar Ramírez [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*), was without doubt _revered_ across Latin America especially in the parts of Latin America that he did, in fact, liberate (Venezuela, Colombia (then New Grenada) and Panama, Ecuador and Peru) and then perhaps even more-so in Venezuela where he was from, his legacy has been appropriated in recent years by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* as a "model" / symbol of his own contemporary efforts to bring a far greater level of social justice to common Venezuelans than was the case until, well, his (Chávez') arrival on the scene.

This contemporary "battle" about the legacy of Simón Bolivar [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] [IMDb] needs to be kept in mind as one watches this film (which after all largely funded by the "Chavista" Venezuelan government), the central question being: When Bolivar called for a "liberation for all people" who did "all" include?

This may _seem_ like a silly question, but Readers here should remember when the Founding Fathers of the United States wrote in the Declaration of Independence that: "All men are created equal" it was more or less clear that the vast majority of them assumed that "all men" meant "WHITE MEN" (meaning NOT non-white men, and NOT women) and then many of the Founders would further stipulate conditions on the "equality" of the "white men" -- Originally only _landed_ white men (those who actually owned property) had the right to vote in the United States.

So, it's certainly plausible that to Bolivar, who grew-up as a son of very wealthy Venezuelan "landed gentry" (Washington, Jefferson and later Robert E. Lee all would have certainly been considered as members of a similar well-educated / landed gentry class  ... ), "all" could have meant something similar.

It's Chávez and other (more) left-leaning Latin American writers like Gabriel García Márquez [es.wikip]* [en.wikip], who began to explore the ramifications of taking Bolivar at his word, that is that "all" would really have meant ALL, and opponents now to Chávez's legacy are left defending a rather embarrassing diminishment of Bolivar's: "Yup, the father of our nation, set out to liberate ... only _some_ of us." ;-)

It is more-or-less clear that the current film takes the view that ALMOST FROM THE BEGINNING Bolivar clearly preferred the more inclusive even utopian understanding of "all," that is, that "ALL really meant ALL." 

And the film expresses this, in part, in its treatment of Bolivar's relationship with his wife Maria Theresa Bolivar (played by María Valverde [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*), portraying her, a Spanish born daughter of Spanish nobility, as very much sitting in on AND PARTICIPATING in the "great political / philosophical discussions" that Bolivar's circle of friends would have "over dinner" and during the years prior to his taking-up the ideals and cause of the American and French Revolutions in his part of the world.

In reality, Maria died (of yellow fever) very early (only 8 months) after her arrival with Bolivar to Venezuela from Spain.  So it'd be very hard to know if the film's portrayal of the relationship between Bolivar and his wife, both then still quite young, was accurate or would have continued to have been accurate if she had lived longer.

Similarly, when Bolivar is portrayed taking-up the cause of armed insurrection against Spain, he's shown setting up a stronghold, while still accessible to the sea, nevertheless "at the edge of the jungle wilds."  This allows the film to portray Bolivar's subsequent army to be composed of not merely of other like-minded Venezuelan colonists (as well as Irish / English mercenaries, er "volunteers") but also to be composed  _above all_ of INDIGENOUS PEOPLE and POORER, BOTH WHITE AND BLACK PEASANTS / "FOREST DWELLERS." 

This is possible, perhaps even PROBABLE (after all one can't really build a serious army out of MERELY "landed gentlemen" -- there'd never be NEARLY ENOUGH OF THEM ;-).  But it's CERTAINLY A "STICK IN THE EYE" to various elites today to remind them that PRETTY MUCH _ANY_ MILITARY ADVENTURE REQUIRES A LOT OF POOR(ER) PEOPLE to do the fighting.

LOL ;-) even the American Confederate Civil War "Hero," Robert E. Lee would have been simply sitting on his white horse, leading NOBODY, if he didn't have an army of poorer Southern white people WHO NEVER HAD THE MONEY TO OWN ANOTHER (DARKER) PERSON at his disposal to then command ;-).

So the portrayal of Bolivar's army in this film is both "kinda realistic" AND amusing / argumentative and even propagandistic -- giving due honor to the multitudes of "little foot soldiers" who would have done most of the actual fighting as Bolivar fought to Liberate his part of Latin America from the Spanish yoke.  Perhaps the ONLY potentially surprising aspect to this take on the Bolivar's campaign was that Bolivar is portrayed in this film as actually caring for the freedom / destiny of these "little people" under his command.

Finally, many of the Venezuelan (anti-Chavist?) critics of the film have chafed at its assertion that Bolivar was assassinated rather than having died (officially) of tuberculosis.   Yet even conceding that medical diagnoses in the early part of the 19th century would not have been what they are today, "tuberculosis" seems like a rather ODD cause of death for a presumably previously VITAL LEADER.  Tuberculosis TODAY would be understood as a progressive debilitating lung disease not something that one comes down with and then _rapidly_ "just dies of."  Yet perhaps there could have been all kinds of similar (and more rapidly mortal) diseases that he could have died of that AT THE TIME WOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED to be (like) "tuberculosis."

So all in all, this film _is_ more-or-less a "Chavista propaganda tract" about the life of Simón Bolivar [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] [IMDb] who recent Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* considered something of a model and certainly a hero.

Still it remains a PLAUSIBLE and at times even PROBABLE take on Bolivar's life that puts Chavez' opponents in a difficult position:  Does one really want to argue that one's nation's FOUNDER and REVERED HERO really didn't want to free (or even respect) everybody?

As such, I smile and have to say that I enjoyed the film ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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