I saw an interesting movie the other night. “El Libertador” (The Liberator) is about Simon Bolivar (played by Édgar Ramírez, who also appeared in Zero Dark Thirty). The movie is a great a primer for those unfamiliar with this crucial bit of South American history and the director managed to keep this epic story to 2-hours in length.
Few people outside of Latin America are familiar with this fascinating leader, who led the revolution for independence from Spain in the early 1800’s and united Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia into the country of Gran Colombia. The lush sets stand in contrast to the tyranny of the Spanish empire: massacring the indigenous, enslaving Africans, and crushing those opposed to colonization.
Born into a wealthy family, Bolívar might have been immune to such injustices, but orphaned at an early age he was raised by a slave he called “mother” and tutored by a socialist-leaning teacher. Hence he bonded and sympathized with people of different classes and ideas – an extraordinary trait in an aristocratic land holder at the turn of the 19th century.
The loss of his young wife Maria Teresa, to yellow fever, is the turning point in his life. (The love scenes are minor but beautiful.) He finds his cause in the fight for freedom, equality and dignity for all and becomes a skillful general and inspired leader.
His heroic military campaigns covered tens of thousands of miles of difficult territory, including jungles and the snowy Andes Mountains. (Confession – I rented this on Netflix and fast-forwarded through the many battle scenes.)
Bolivar finances the war using his own wealth, with the support of British businessmen, and galvanizes the multiple races, tribes and neighboring states around the idea of fighting for a united sovereign country. He freed the slaves in 1816 and the Republica de Gran Colombia (the territory previously called Nueva Granada) was formed in 1820 with Bolivar as president. He continued the fight in Peru and Bolivia for the next four to five years before they too won independence and joined the republic .
Sadly internal divisions sparked dissent throughout the nation as different leaders fought for power and eventually the republic was divided into separate states. Bolivar died in 1830, officially of tuberculosis, although the movie suggests a controversial assassination. Parks and plazas around the world, and especially in Latin America, are named in his honor (as well as the currency of Venezuela and Bolivia).
The movie is in English and Spanish (and occasionally French) with English subtitles. The colonial sets and cinematography are wonderful. It made the shortlist of best foreign language film category of the Academy Awards this year. Produced in collaboration with Venezuelan and Spanish companies and given a majestic score composed by Gustavo Dudamel of the LA Philharmonic. See this film if you like sweeping, romantic movies or want to learn some history crucial to South America.
Were you familiar with Simon Bolivar’s story before reading this? (His-tory). If so, are you from Latin America?