“The Liberator,” which premiered in Venezuela on Thursday, July 24, will open in the U.S. on August 22.
The movie narrates the life of Simon Bolivar, one of South Americas most important heroes during the 19th century independence wars against the Spanish Empire. While “The Liberator” probably will not make $1 billion USD at the box-office like Transformers 4, the movies production value is a major accomplishment.
SEE ALSO: Chavez, Jesus and Simon Bolivar
The budget for producing The Liberator was an approximate $50 million USD, more than a significant amount for any Latin American production company. It is important to stress that it did not receive funds from the Venezuelan government. The film is a co-production of Venezuelas Producciones Insurgentes and Spains San Mateo Films.
The Liberator stars the Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as Simon Bolivar and was directed by the renowned Venezuelan director, Alberto Arvelo. It was filmed in various Venezuelan and Spanish cities like Caracas and Segovia, respectively. The tagline of the films English poster is the provocative question What kind of Man would Defy an Empire?
According to reports, The Liberator has already been a big hit, some 90 thousand people saw the film in its first weekend out in Venezuela. Meanwhile, Ramirez has received positive reviews for his portrayal of the South American hero. Nevertheless, some movie critics stress that the film summarizes Bolivars 47-year lifespan in two hours skims over important events.
History and Modern Politics
In spite of its success, The Liberator has caused controversy. Ramirez has remarked how Bolivars image and legacy has been utilized by the Latin American right and left for several years. He added that the late-Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was obsessed with Bolivar. While actors usually try to stay away from politics when promoting a film, Ramirez has been outspoken about his beliefs.
A fellow actor, Roque Valero, in turn critiqued Ramirezs remarks. He tweeted that Chavez did not speak about Bolivar obsessively, he simply taught us to be Bolivarians and that cannot be matched with special effects.
Chavez no habló de manera obsesiva sobre Bolivar, simplemente nos enseñó a ser Bolivarianos y eso no lo superan ni con efectos especiales
Roque Valero (@RoqueValero) July 26, 2014
The Venezuelan media speculates that Valero may be jealous. He recently starred as Bolivar in a government-supported movie entitled Bolivar el hombre de las dificultades, whose success paled in comparison to The Liberator.
Artistic differences aside, the Venezuelan government has welcomed “The Liberator,” with President Nicolas Maduro already a fan.
He argued that Ramirezs portrayal of Bolivar is the most pro-Chavista Bolivar that we have seen [ ] Edgar Ramirez turned [Bolivar] into a human being of flesh and bone, into our liberator. President Maduro also praised the other Bolivar film, which Valero starred, but it seems like the Venezuelan leader preferred the recently-released adaptation.
Conspiracies and Artistic Licenses
As for the aforementioned references to the late Chavez, he was a well-known fan of Bolivar. In 2010 he took the very controversial decision of exhuming Bolivars body to determine how he died in 1830.
It is generally accepted that Bolivar died of tuberculosis. However, some people, including the late Venezuelan leader, believe that he was murdered. Ultimately, a 2012 report by the doctors who examined Bolivars remains determined that he had died of chronic breathing problems, not tuberculosis (nor was he murdered).
The movies ending has also been critiqued. Instead of Bolivar dying due to sickness (either tuberculosis or breathing problems), he is murdered by a group of conspirators. The screenwriter, Timothy Sexton, argues that when you make a historical movie you have to take certain [artistic] licenses, but you have to remain faithful to [actual] events.
This is what makes “The Liberator” controversial.
The film may just be a film, but even commercial productions have to be placed in the proper context.
Theoretically Caracas did not have influence on the script or how Bolivar was portrayed because it did not fund film. But is the film ending a sign of Caracas influence or simply a decision by the producers? Moreover, should movies be allowed to change important events, i.e. how an international hero died, in order to add dramatic shock value?
A U.S. Hit?
The Liberator is already a hit in Venezuela and its momentum will likely translate into a good reception across Latin America. It will be important to see how the film performs when it is released in the U.S. in late August.
A recent study highlights how fewer Hispanics actors and actresses have major roles in Hollywood movies, but that does not mean that Latin American movies cannot do well in the U.S. market (i.e. Motorcycle Diaries in 2004). We could see such a development with The Liberator.