I think that for many of us the choice of being a leftist versus a rightist does not cause many existential problems. It is inconceivable for us that a person can rationally be racist, xenophobic, chauvinist, homophobic, colonialist or more generally (many rightists are not any of those) that one’s way of life could be actively detrimental to another, and somehow, we think much of ourselves for such attitude. The problem comes when our comfort is challenged by our ethics. The film También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) by Icíar Bollaín invites us to question this challenge. The plot introduces Sebastian, a film director who comes to a pre-Morales Bolivia (2000) in order to shoot a movie illustrating the horror of the Spanish colonialism after Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘new world’ in the late 15th century. The beginning of the film (the real one) shows Sebastian’s generosity and passion to (re)write history through a strong anti-colonialist verve. Soon enough however, the Cochachamba water conflict occurs and oppose the governmental privatization of water distribution against the anger of the people. For several reasons developed in the movie, Sebastian is confronted to a series of choices between his film and his ethics which should push him to stop his project and join the protesters one way or another. Each time, nevertheless, he favors his film more than anything else and without actively helping the violent suppression, he makes compromises betraying the spirit in which he was making his film in the first place.
Sebastian is a film director but the problem remains the exact same for an architect. Designing shelters for the third world in Western architecture school is good and certainly takes essence in honorable feeling we have, us, their creators; but doesn’t it satisfy us a little bit too quickly without contributing to a practical help to the people it was supposed to be addressed to in the first place? And, before even starting such projects, which are never far from being patronizing, don’t we have everything to learn from the people it claims to be serving? No need to go too far from the place we live to be confronted with the same issues, only manifested in more subtle ways. Because we are passionate by architecture and that we are convinced that our design can make a stand, we think of it as an end in itself ignoring the means and compromises that it would have taken to be achieved. Of course, nothing happen without compromises but to who or what are they detrimental?
Who are we in this movie? The stubborn director who values more history than what happen in front of him right here right now? The venal producer who ends up being the person who opens up the most to the local population yet remaining slightly paternalist? The actor playing Christopher Columbus to who the difficulty of this problem appears very clearly but who prefers to escape from it by drinking rather than acting? The other actors who value their 15th century ethical characters but act like cowards when the riots begin? Or can we possibly be somebody else? This question cannot be answered theoretically but can only be responded in acts. Many are and will be the occasions to make the choice that is the most conform to our ethics as difficult it might be. This problem concerns us as all carrying some characteristics of the standard that Gilles Deleuze evokes when he explains what is it to be from the left: depending on the country, white, male, healthy, heterosexual, rich, living in the city, citizen of a former or current colonial ’empire’ etc. Somehow, we all own some of these characteristics (some of us even owns them all) and we can therefore question our attitude vis a vis this problem. On the other hand, the standard is never fully embodied by a specific person as we also all own few or many minor characteristics that invites us to be part of what G.Deleuze calls the revolutionary becoming (see the article above and many others). Which ones of these two antagonist characteristics we want to embrace is up to us and us all.