Dr. Donna Copeland’s
E D G A R R A M I R E Z
For a movie you probably haven’t heard a lot about, The Liberator is quite the epic film. Clearly working with a healthy budget, the elaborate costumes, impressive locations, and stunning helicopter landscape shots really do the scope of the project justice. Edgar Ramirez (Deliver Us From Evil, The Counselor) might not be a household name just yet, but his growing popularity with the Latino population and choice of projects continues to add impressive credits to his growing resume. Easily the performance of his career since he is The Liberator, Ramirez owns every second and corner of the film with the type of historic leader performance you might expect from such a true story.
For 15 years Simon Bolivar (Ramirez) led the revolution against the Spanish Empire. “It’s a war to destroy the borders imposed by the Spanish,” he told those who would follow him. Over 100 battles, covering more territory than even Napoleon, yet Bolivar never wanted to conquer, only to liberate those being oppressed by a government who assumed power in South America. His skeptics said South America divided to rise up for a common goal, yet Bolivar fought on. His revolution gained numbers whenever he went, even after being banished to the jungle of Cartagena, his spark and selfless passion ignited an entire country.
The quality certainly matches the scope; the never-ending (never tiresome) location shots are stunning on the big screen. Cinematographer Xavi Giménez puts you in the jungle of Cartagena, the countryside of Venezuela and atop the frigid Alps; the miles Bolivar travels, as excruciating as they are, have never looked more alive. However, a beautiful location and beautiful camera work only gets you half way; it’s Ramirez’s powerful and thirsty performance (also serving as producer) that makes this epic historical drama worth your time. I didn’t realize Bolivar Peninsula in Texas was named after Simon Bolivar, and The Liberator offers so much more history and educational value.
So far this is the stand out foreign film of the year, although the scenes with Ramirez and Danny Huston (Hitchcock, Children of Men) are in English. Like most great historical heroes, Bolivar isn’t without his flaws or misconceptions. The film, directed by Alberto Arvelo, details his rise from prominent landowner to one of the most important figures in South American history. Finally, the film is all brought together by Venezuelan composer Gustavo Dudamel in his first film composure, and it’s an idyllic marriage to the cinematography. What The Liberator lacks in gripping storytelling or editing expertise, it makes up in technical scope.
Final Thought – Breathtakingly beautiful film with a commanding lead performance from rising star Ramirez.
By: Dustin Chase
This film by Alberto Arvelo will be Venezuela’s entry for an Oscar foreign language award. The music is by Arvelo’s countryman, Gustavo Dudamel, who is also the music director of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the Orquesta Sinfonica Simon Bolivar (the national youth orchestra of Venezuela) at home. He won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. The music is remarkably good in The Liberator, which includes both native styles and classical pieces.
The Liberator dramatizes Bolivar’s valiant efforts in the late 19th century to make South America a democracy free from Spanish rule. It was a bloody struggle, but Bolivar believed intensely that “man’s true destiny is freedom” and after succeeding in setting up a republic, he was committed to the belief that “we must protect the unity of the Republic at all costs”—no easy task amid such diversity in people and cultures. Factual information noted at the beginning of the film is that Bolivar rode more than 70,000 miles on horseback; that his campaigns covered twice the territory as Alexander the Great’s; and that his army never conquered—it liberated. The screenplay was written by Timothy Sexton, who also wrote the script for the recent Cesar Chavez film and the earlier Children of Men. He and Arvelo and the other makers of the film have taken a broad sweep of the action-packed life of the hero, which spans over 30 years time. For this reason, the film is very fast-paced, and skips over many details.
As the film shows, Bolivar was an impressive and significant figure in Latin American politics who has been called the “George Washington of South America.” He could have been a rich playboy, but he had a “maestro” from childhood who had a decisive influence on his moral values. So although he started out traveling the international party circuit in Madrid and Paris after the death of his young wife from yellow fever, he began to follow his teacher’s precepts and became committed to a political/military life, working toward improvements in the lives of the oppressed.
The ending of The Liberator film is controversial, because historically there was a dispute about whether Bolivar died of tuberculosis (the official story) or was murdered. The late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who was a big fan of Bolivar, had his body exhumed in 2010 to verify how he died, and it was concluded that neither claim was true. He apparently died of a respiratory infection. The viewer should be aware that the producers of the film elected to make the ending of the film more dramatic, so took “artistic license” to depart from historical fact.
Bolivar is finely played by Edgar Ramirez, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor for his role of “Carlos the Jackal” in the biopic Carlos. Cinematography by Xavi Gimenez (The Machinist), along with excellent CGI in battle scenes, production design, and costumes present a colorful, beautiful palette for the viewer to get a good sense of the historical period and Bolivar’s role in it.
A very fine history lesson for those interested in South America.
By Donna R. Copeland