Simón Bolivar is the most prominent figure in the War for Independence of South America; for ten years he fought more than one hundred battles against the Spanish Empire, leading to the liberation of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. An epic figure that requires an epic picture to capture his life and character.
Alberto Arvelo and Timothy Sexton take on the task to put on the big screen the biography of the Liberator, an ambitious co-production of Venezuela and Spain. The historical importance of Bolivar is not at stake, as is the fact that the authors have attained one of the most impressive productions from South America. A saga of powerful images and sounds that invite to dwell on a most charismatic figure.
Arvelo is a successful Venezuelan filmmaker with several features to his credit: Una Casa con vista al mar, Habana, Havana and Cyranos Femandez; in televisión he is responsible for the acclaimed series, Los Ultimos (The Last Ones). Third generation in a family of poets, educated as a historian who takes on the cinematic passion, generating awards at international festivals.
A biography of a figure of this magnitude is a formidable and very difficult task; there is so much to choose and to adapt to the requirements of the narrative of a film script. Sexton has previous credits as co-screenwriter of Children of Men and Cesar Chavez, the script writer in Live from Bagdad and For Love of Country; he has collaborataed with the directors Alfonso Cuaron and Diego Luna.
Art begins with what to include and exclude in the development of a main figure, in a manner that is viable and congruent, a dramatic arc, and sequencing and development of scenes that convey the action. The story evolves from a young criollo aristocrat from Venezuela, who renounces the comforts of wealth and pleasures to take on the cause of liberty, fighting to liberate South America from the Spanish Empire at the beginning of the 19th Century, and his attempt to unify la Grand Colombia.
The story starts with the attempt on the life of the Liberator. The staging of that first scene, lighting, camera movement, meticulous dress and scenic details, heightened by a symphonic score immediately conveys we are to witness a film of substance. The cast is dominated by the figure of Bolivar, played by Edgar Ramirez and figures like General Monteverde (Imanol Arias) the English banker Martin Torkington (Danny Houston), General Miranda (Manuel Porto ) Colonel Rooke (Garry Lewis) Liutenanat O’Leary (Iwan Rheon), the teacher Simon Rodriguez (Francis Denis) and the female figures of Maria Teresa (Maria Valverde) y Manuelita (Juana Acosta).
The film has a series of excellent aspects, the staging and epoch reconstruction are first class, the photography and the sound track contribute to the spectacle, with crossing the Andes to be noted, as well as the battle scenes. On the down side, the script leaves out crucial information that would have made the story more revealing, for example: Bolivar received early military training in an academy where he distinguished himself in weapons and strategy. It is not mentioned that he had the highest degree awarded by Masons. He is portrayed as a romantic monogamist which does not seen to have been the case. The debate between the ideologist, the soldier and the politician, scatters little light on the latter, and deals very lightly with his presidency for life.
The film is centered in the main character, slighting the complexity of figures like Sucre and San Martín, who are reduced to a footnote. Ramirez has brilliant moments as Bolivar but his dramatic evolution was not to be found by this Zocotroco. Secondary characters have little to work with, some are monotonous other frankly poor. The evidence suggesting that the director concentrated on his staging, less on story and performers.
Copyright 2015 by Jose M.Umpierre. Photos of Alberto Arevelo and production still used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law. All other images in the public domain.