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The Liberator
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10 from votes
Release: 24 July 2014 (Venezuela) /

The Liberator

Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Director: Timothy J. Sexton,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Simon Bolivar fought over 100 battles against the Spanish Empire in South America. He rode over 70,000 miles on horseback. His military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great. His army never conquered -- it liberated.

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Critic Reviews


Historical drama in Latin American cinema has experienced a comeback in recent years (Morelos, 5 de Mayo, The Conquest) with mostly disastrous results, as the ambition of these projects rarely is met with adequate resources or talent. This film is somewhat of an exception. The most expensive South American film made to date, The Liberator cannot be accused of being unambitious. The 50 million dollar production deserves to be seen if for no other reason than to find out how the money was spent. Venezuelan director Albert Arvelo spared no expense in creating spectacular sets that recreate Madrid, Paris, Bogota, and Caracas, among other cities, and in mobilizing armies of extras to re-stage 19th century battles. The result is convincing. The camera-work and cinematography of Xavi Gimenez (The Machinist, Agora) is equally first class, whether it is drone-shot aerial vistas of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada or hand-held following a fleet of canoes over the Orinoco river. The score, by the phenomenally talented Gustavo Dudamel, elevates the visuals and, while mostly conventional, punctuates orchestral lushness with Amerindian instrumentation much like in Moriccone's The Mission.

If only the script were on the same level. Part biopic and part cinematic history lesson, the film ties to capture almost the entirety of Simon Bolivar's life in under two hours. Instead of choosing a slice of the life of one of the most complex historical figures of the nineteenth century, as Spielberg's Lincoln did effectively, Arvelo foolishly tried to rush us through his entire career, from his time as a young landowner, to a dilettante in Paris, to an almost Moses-like figure liberating an entire continent. Such ambition is nearly impossible to pull off, and what we get is a Wikipedia-like biography on celluloid. We follow Bolivar around without ever understanding motives, emotional or political. The narrative devices are equally problematic. Forced, unnatural dialogue is mixed with shots of Bolivar penning letters while we hear unconvincing voice-overs in Spanish, English and French. As the movie progresses, the less time the director has in explaining the historic or personal issues, and mere minutes are spent in political battles that lasted years. During the last half hour, the film opts for slogans, name-calling and unashamed hero worship.

Edgar Ramirez, who was riveting in Assaya's Carlos, plays the title character and doesn't quite know what to do with the role. He has a screen presence, but he cannot do much with a film has little time for character development. Ramirez is most comfortable in the early scenes, as a sorrowful young widower, but the progression from aristocratic landowner to military commander and towering political leader is unconvincing and he becomes increasingly unlikable. The English banker Torkington (the great Danny Huston), is the only other memorable character, but later in the film is turned into a capitalist-cartoon villain that seems like something out of a propagandist's imagination.

Arvelo, the director, confessed in a Variety interview that "screenwriting is quite possibly the weakest element in Latin American filmmaking." How could I disagree? Still, the accomplishments of the film are undeniable. The film is a visual spectacle, best seen in a large screen, and at the very least left me wanting for someone else to try a real character study of Bolivar.

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