2014 LA FILM FESTIVAL: THE LIBERATOR
Lefty film fans rejoice -- the Simon Bolivar biopic The Liberator, which U.S. premiered at the LA Film Festival, is the state of the art for progressive motion pictures. The Venezuelan/Spanish co-production stars Caracas-born Edgar Ramirez (who was Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated for the 2010 biopic Carlos, about the ultra-left terrorist called “Carlos the Jackal"), who also executive produced the film. Using a flashback structure, Libertador (as it is called in Spanish in this Spanish-language film with some spoken English and French and English subtitles) follows Bolivar’s evolution from the spoiled scion of a plantation-owning family into a sort of early 19th century Che Guevara. Prodded by his philosophical teacher Simón Rodríguez (Francisco Denis) and the social injustice he witnesses, the Venezuelan evolves into the leader of a liberation movement to end Spanish colonialism in South America and to establish “Gran Colombia,” a continent-wide republic based on the best ideals of the Enlightenment and of the American and French Revolutions.
In addition to top acting, The Liberator has high production values, with stunning cinematography, including soaring aerial camerawork by the Spanish director of photography Xavi Gimenez (2004’s The Machinist, 2008’s Transsiberian and 2009’s Agora)as Bolivar’s army, Hannibal-like, crosses the Andes. The artistry of production designer Paul D. Austerberry (2010’s Twilight Saga: Eclipse, 2011’s The Three Musketeers and 2014’s Pompeii) and costume designer Sonia Grande (Woody Allen’s 2008 Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2011 Midnight in Paris and 2012 To Rome With Love, plus 2010’s Even the Rain) combine to realistically render a sense of early 19th century Madrid, Paris and South America, which is so vital for this period piece.
The talented international crew includes Indian editor Tariq Anwar (who has twice been Academy Award nommed, for 1999’s American Beauty and 2010’s Best Picture Oscar winner The King’s Speech), who has cut action-packed battle sequences full of riveting montages. Gustavo Dudamel, music director of Venezuela’s Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, composed The Liberator's original score. At the LAFF U.S. premiere a bearded, dapper Ramirez called Dudamel “a genius who breathes music in every atom. The music is almost another character in the film.” A brief but heartfelt clip of the youthful maestro introducing the movie preceded the LA FilmFest screening.
The Liberator's screenplay was written by U.S.-born Timothy Sexton, who was Oscar- and Emmy-nominated for, respectively, 2006’s Children of Men and 2002's Live From Baghdad. Sexton also co-wrote 2014’s Cesar Chavez biopic about the labor organizer, as well as the 2006 TV movie Walkout (about L.A.'s historic Chicano student strike in 1968) and the 2001 made-for-TV Civil Rights movie about Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks called Boycott. The Liberator is skillfully directed by Caracas-born Alberto Arvelo (2004’s Habana, Havana).
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In addition to the gifted Ramirez (who also appeared in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty) the cast includes actors Western audiences might be familiar with: African Queen director John Huston’s son Danny Huston (who played Orson Welles in 2006’s Fade to Black, the crime lord in the 2013 Starz TV series Magic City and appeared in John Sayles’ 2004 Silver City) as Torkington, who seems to be a gambler/profiteer and/or British agent provocateur, similar to the William Walker role Marlon Brando played in another film about Third World revolution, Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1969 Burn! Glasgow-born Gary Lewis (2005’s antiwar Joyeux Noel, 2000’s Billy Eliot, Ken Loach’s 1998 My Name is Joe) portrays James Rooke, an actual Dublin-born soldier who led a sort of “International Brigade” as part of Bolivar’s liberation forces. Venezuela-born Steve Wilcox (1992’s American Me, 2012’s FX TV series Sons of Anarchy), who attended the LAFF screening with Edgar Ramirez and other cast members, plays a character called the Black Rider.
In addition to gripping combat sequences, The Liberator includes tender, sexy love scenes with some nudity, as it tells Bolivar’s story as both a freedom fighter and as a man. Spanish actress Maria Valverde(she played the title character in the 2008 Spanish Civil War drama The Anarchist’s Wife and co-starred in 2003’s The Weakness of the Bolshevik) plays Bolivar’s wife, whileduring a later part of the title character’s life, Colombia-born Juana Acosta portrays Bolivar’s lover Manuela Sáenz, whom Bolivar called “liberator of the liberator” after she saved him from an assassination plot that opens the picture. Significantly, the film also depicts Black characters as part of the South American milieu and population, with Zenaida Gamboa rather sympathetically playing Bolivar’s adoptive mother, Hipólita.
With its big screen historical epic sweep and larger than life characters The Liberator is a sort of leftwing Gone with the Wind, with the important differences that most of the former’s actors depict actual people in a fact-based drama and, unlike, GWTW, the Bolivar biopic is on the side of the oppressed, not the slaveholders. It is an important history lesson artfully taught with cinematic lightning -- and Dudamel’s thunder.
This Venezuelan co-production can also be seen as a testament to Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, and as an example of 21st century revolutionary culture. Prepare to be liberated: According to producer Ana Loehnert, The Liberator is tentatively set to be theatrically release in the U.S. on Aug. 22. Viva Bolivar!
The Liberator screens 1:30 p.m., June 18, at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live 12 in Downtown Los Angeles.
For more info see: www.LAFilmfest.com.