Dir: Jorge Ali Triana. Colombia/France. 2002. 93 mins.
Since taking the top prize at Mar del Plata last year, Bolivar, That's Me, an offbeat satire about an actor who starts to over-identity with the character he is playing, has been a regular guest on the international festival circuit, playing at the Havana Festival of New Latin American Cinema just before Christmas. However, broader commercial prospects, especially outside Latin America, will depend on the extent to which audiences are attuned to the significance of Simon Bolivar, the 19th-century military leader whose life is the starting point for the story. The film's ironic humour is unlikely to be to all tastes, although entrepreneurial specialist distributors may be encouraged by its clutch of specialist awards on the international circuit.
Santiago (Robinson Diaz) is starring in a TV series about Bolivar, a figure whose impressive achievements - he liberated Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador from Spanish rule - ought to provide rich fodder for a drama. This, however, is a silly soap opera interested mainly in Bolivar's putative stream of mistresses.
When the script requires him to die at the hands of a firing squad (instead of the real-life tuberculosis) the actor flies into a rage, accusing the producers of distorting history to boost ratings. Stomping off set, Santiago, still in costume, rides a white horse through Bogota, hallucinating that he is, in fact, the great soldier.
A string of absurd incidents follows, as Santiago/Bolivar presides over the anniversary parade of his own death and picks up a prostitute at a nightclub. Extraordinarily, most of the people the actor meets collude in his fantasy, addressing him as though he were really Bolivar - except for the television show's director who is on Santiago's trail, accompanied by a doctor keen to certify him insane.
Director Jorge Ali Triana's previous films, A Time To Die (1985) and Mayor Oedipus (1996) were both scripted by the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a stronger hand , such as Marquez's, would have helped here to maintain the film's delicate blend of dream and reality. While Bolivar, That's Me contains many piquant and amusing scenes, it's not entirely successful in keeping this balance.
Triana prefers it to be seen as a psychological portrait of one man's delusions rather than as political satire. This central ambiguity eventually diminishes the dramatic impact of the film, which descends into confusion after Santiago kidnaps the Colombian President in a crazed bid to change his country's troubled history. As a director whose background is primarily in theatre, Triana's visual approach is also a little functional for a story which cries out for a touch of magical excess. On the plus side, Diaz proves himself a charismatic lead and, for all its weaknesses, the film is never less than diverting and provocative.
Prod cos: Grupo Colombia, Artcam International
Int'l sales: United Angels Productions, Mexico
Prod: Jorge Ali Triana
Scr: Manuel Arias, Alberto Quiroga, Triana
Cinematography: Rodrigo Lalinde
Prod des: Rosario Lozano
Ed: Erick Morris
Music: Osvaldo Montes
Main cast: Robinson Diaz, Amparo Grisales, Jairo Camargo, Fanny Mikey, Gustavo Angarita