2014, R, 119 min. Directed by Alberto Arvelo. Starring Édgar Ramírez, Erich Wildpret, María Valverde.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Oct. 3, 2014
A tightly personal tale winds its way through this vast epic about the great South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar. His loves, family, comrades, and friends are all key players in his story. The film is quite ambitious in its narrative undertaking: After all, in the colonial wars for independence from Spain under Bolívar's leadership, territories were liberated that now include Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. As the film’s opening text tells us: "Bolivar fought over 100 battles against the Spanish Empire in South America."
Ramírez (Carlos) is excellent as Bolívar in this Venezuelan production. Skilled director Arvelo is as expert at presenting intimate personal encounters as he is in detailing vast military campaigns. The film is often thrilling and filled with the language and ideas of revolution and liberation.
Bolívar, from a powerful, upper-class Venezuelan family, is shown to have been schooled in politics by his tutor. But life developments send him into a tailspin, so it takes a bit before he is ready to join the resistance. Once he does, however, he becomes the legendary and effective leader within a couple of years, and remains so until his death in 1830.
The biggest problem with the film is that in order for it to work, the viewer needs a considerable knowledge of South American history, especially the wars of liberation in the first half of the 19th century. Certainly this would all be familiar to South American audiences, but those of us aware but not deeply knowledgeable about that period are easily lost. The Liberator presents as fact Bolívar's death at the hands of his enemies, but even a light reading finds that this is a controversial conclusion.
The film is vast and epic, featuring sprawling rivers, awe-inspiring landscapes, serious military campaigns, and the rich political and ideological history of the period. Still, without sufficient context, the films swirls grandly but without making much meaning.