Not many people know of the man who is known history as Latin America’s “Libertador,” but the Venezuelan director Arberto Arvelo attempts to portray Simon Bolivar (Edgar Ramirez) in his latest project, “The Liberator.” Arvelo’s attempt at providing a glimpse into the dense history of the decolonization of early 19th-century Latin America for international viewers made it the Venezuelan entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it lacks in its execution of holding up such a significant story and man.
The film focuses on a 30-year span in Simon Bolivar’s life and follows him from his beginnings as a young, wealthy aristocrat in Venezuela to his journey as a leader of 100 battles taking place over decades of fighting a Spanish rule that lasted 300 years.The primarily Spanish film begins with the introduction of Bolivar’s romance with the Spanish aristocrat Maria Theresa del Toro (Maria Valverde). After he marries and returns to Venezuela with his new bride, del Toro dies of yellow fever, quickly ending Bolivar’s blissful and dreamlike reality.
After the loss of his wife, Bolivar is depicted as a frivolous playboy by the film, even though it could have chosen any part of his life and made that into something interesting and authentic. In choosing to only highlight this aspect of his life, the film conveys little information of him to the audience. The beginning gives a glimpse of Bolivar as a child, portraying the loss of his mother, but the scene lasts less than a minute. Scenes that portray childhood reveal several levels of the character — more so than romances. Why are these important parts left out?
In a sudden meeting with a tutor and mentor in France, the revolutionary exile Simon Rodriguez (Francisco Denis) reminds Bolivar of his powerful status and how it will be a waste if not used for the revolution back home in Venezuela. A convinced and inspired Bolivar returns home and begins the journey of uniting with his roots and retrieving a decolonized home for the Latin Americans — not through conquering but through liberating.
It all remains quite a glorious story. Well, there’s far more to it than what cinematic screens can contain. It exists as an incredible historical moment of liberation from a brutal colonial rule, and the film unfortunately fails to bring justice to such a significant point in history.
Understandably, Arvelo sought to move away from creating another ordinary biopic of Bolivar. He aimed to bring justice to Bolivar’s story by assembling a team of strong names from Hollywood to make a grand-scale film with impressive computer-generated imagery for the battle scenes and stunning cinematography throughout. But the end product is just another big Hollywood film that dilutes the genuineness found in flawed and realistic personal stories.
Choosing to fit such a major and foundational part of Latin American history into 119 minutes would be a helluva daunting task for anyone, so hats off to the ambitious team that chose to tell this story.
The film makes attempts at portraying some intimate moments in Bolivar’s life, but those scenes ultimately come across as flat, conveying the hero as an empty character. A more in-depth look at those dreadful years spent crossing rigorous terrain while fighting intense battles would have revealed the great leader and man he was in a more effective manner.
Bolivar led no easy journey across the Americas, but the movie won’t leave audiences with an adequate-enough scope of what he and the other natives of these countries endured during those years of battle. The film ends in a rush, devaluing a part of history. “The Liberator” does not adequately share this important story with a world mostly removed from early 19th-century Latin America.
“The Liberator” is now playing at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco.