For the very first time (and not because it wasn’t attempted before) Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan precursor of South America’s independence, walks out from one of the many paintings made in his honor to become a fully fleshed man in The Liberator.
Alberto Arvelo directs an incredibly ambitious yet dazzlingly successful depiction of a man who shaped the future of many countries, whose stoic countenance you see portrayed endlessly (at least if you grew up in one of them) in books, museums, and many historic landmarks. Not an easy task, given the spectrum of Bolivar’s journey through different continents in pursue of his cause, gathering an army of thousands and crossing frontiers through brutal battles, but Arvelo manages to achieve a task almost as daunting as his main protagonist’s in a feature that feels epic in scale. Filmed both in Europe and South America, the natural landscapes where most of the story takes place are captured in gorgeous and magnificent aerial shots, specially in Venezuela, where the eclecticism of its geography, from snowy mountainscapes to deep jungles, is nothing short of breathtaking. This is a film definitively worth watching in a big screen.
But despite the effectiveness of its cinematography, the real show stealer is its protagonist Edgar Ramirez. Not only he has the presence and gravitas you need for a character of this kind, but he has also the charm you need in a natural leader. He feels real and completely comfortable in Bolivar’s skin, even flowing seamlessly between languages, from Spanish to English to French and even more, without loosing a beat in his performance. It wouldn’t surprise me if this role won Ramirez multiple nominations and awards, it takes an smart actor to focus on playing the man and not the iconic historical figure in a project of this kind to keep audiences truly engaged.
Alongside Ramirez stands both a multinational and multicultural cast, which does wonders enhancing the already high sense of realism. Maria Valverde is fantastic as Maria Theresa Bolivar. Juana Acosta is a fierceless ahead-of-her-time feminist as an unforgettable Manuela Saenz. The rest of the cast is incredible as well: Eric Wildpret as Antonio Jose de Sucre, Danny Huston as Torkington, Carlos Julio Molina as Jose Felix Ribas, alongside others in overall solid performances.
Another point worth mentioning: the portray of women in this chapter of history is outstanding. We see all range of empowered women: from mothers giving birth in the middle of nowhere, to war strategies confidants, to even soldiers in the battlefields. I appreciated the inclusion of a fact often overlooked in features of this kind.
The Liberator is an achievement in more than one level, from its performances to the magnitude of its scale, succeeding both as a historical piece and a gorgeously rich period drama. The original score by Gustavo Dudamel feels omnipotent, gracious and the perfect background setting the grandiose tone the images on screen deserve, with amazing performances where Edgar Ramirez embodies convincingly a South American icon. This is a film worth watching and admiring, just as Simon Bolivar’s own story.
The Liberator opens in theaters October 3 2014
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